Why Getting Your MBA Gives You Confidence


This is a guest post from Marguerite Arnold.

One of the most enduring reasons to get your MBA (or even EMBA) goes far beyond the “so-called” traditional reasons for going back to grad school (starting with increasing your pay check). It also extends much further than your expanded business network and the knowledge that you pick up along the way, including bettering how you work in teams.

The MBA experience, where-ever you get one, is also structured very differently from other graduate degrees. That is why getting your MBA, whenever you obtain it, will almost undoubtedly enhance just about any other skill set that you have.

Beyond this, however, getting your MBA is one of the best ways of building confidence – and I would add, particularly for women. I know I am not the only woman who I have talked to recently that has specifically mentioned that getting the degree, no matter one’s professional background and track record, helps you understand that business is as much a “conversation” if not “communication” with the rest of the world as it is anything else.

Part of this, I think, is that the MBA experience creates a solid framework for knowing how to “think outside the box” and to express that in terms that other business people will understand. It is not just about creating pretty PowerPoints (although you will probably find yourself doing a lot of those). It is very much about learning how to express yourself in structured terms in order to summarize complicated concepts much more simply and effectively. The ability to “speak fluently” in any language and be much better understood is, in and of itself, a confidence builder.

Presentations and team work are a big part of what you learn (or learn how to do better) – and there is no better way to learn than to try and fail. While this may not sound ideal, it is in fact a vital part of any entrepreneurial story. The skills gained from experiencing both successful and unsuccessful attempts to deal with leadership, management challenges, product launches and marketing if not defining a market itself are invaluable. The only way to understand business is to live it, and I am starting to see a difference in my classmates, and already in myself.

Part of it, I think, is that the MBA experience gives you a framework to look at your own life in a different way – in all its aspects even beyond business. It allows you to separate the idea of “failure” and “success” from personal traits and better define a life path – no matter where you find yourself on it. It certainly allows you to use different benchmarks.

As a relatively “late bloomer”, I can definitely say that the program I attended, at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, has allowed me to define myself differently. In one way, getting an MBA is almost like learning to tell the story better – whether it is a story about yourself or a story about a business idea, concept or initiative.

One thing I do know after a very hard year and as I head into delivering my final presentation. The process of getting my MBA has changed me, for the better. I am a more confident and capable woman, and this is an asset I can lean on no matter where, in the future, my personal and professional journey may end up taking me.

Marguerite Arnold is an entrepreneur, author and third semester EMBA candidate at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

(Image Source: Frankfurt School of Finance and Management)

Do You Know What You Need?

Do you know

It’s what you know.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.

Knowledge, networks, and branding.

You have to start somewhere, and the logical starting point is to acquire knowledge. Society understands the importance of this, which is why primary and high school education can be obtained for free in pretty much all developed countries. And in many countries, university is also heavily subsidized.

But hold on a minute, you might be thinking, many high schools are not free. In fact, they can be very expensive. Think of schools like Eton, public schools in the UK, or private schools in Australia.

It’s true that many schools are expensive, but there is a good reason for this. The parents at these schools are buying something in addition to mere knowledge. They understand the importance of surrounding their fortunate child with other fortunate children. And they are willing to pay big money for the privilege. Friendship networks are a valuable resource that can open doors to a more prosperous and enjoyable life.

However, in a world where knowledge is increasingly commoditised and friendship networks can provide counsel and support but not definite opportunities, the truly important factor is to become distinctive.

The best schools understand and educate their students in the importance of finding an interest and standing out. In Australia, I was fortunate to attend St Aloysius’ College. It was a school run by the Jesuits where students were encouraged to partake is sports, music, cadets, drama, the Duke of Edinburgh program, and all manner of other extra-curricular activities. These activities were fun but they also gave the students a unique experience and story that we could tell about themselves. A brand that the boys could continue to build at university and beyond.

I am currently teaching at a university in China, and the students also seem to have an intuitive sense that branding is crucial. While extra-curricular activities may not be quite as important as they are in Australia, the students will do almost anything to obtain an ‘A’.

Nothing could be more devastating than a ‘B+’.

Of course, after the dust has settled and the exams are finished, the student who earns the ‘A’ doesn’t necessarily know or remember more than the student with the ‘B+’. But in a country with 1.3+ billion people, the costs of failing to distinguish oneself can be high – less chance to study abroad, fewer career opportunities and, perhaps worst of all, diminished prospects for a favorable marriage.

Knowledge is mandatory and networks are helpful, but branding is key.

[Side note: Congratulations to my alma mater, Oxford University, which was ranked #1 in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which judges the performance of 980 universities across 79 countries.]

(Image Source: Flickr)

Great managers select for talent

I am in the process of reading “First Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman. The book makes the insightful point that great managers understand the difference between skills, knowledge and talent:

  1. Skills are abilities that may be acquired by training. For example, a mathematics teacher must be skilled in arithmetic, a secretary must be skilled in typing, and a baker must be skilled in baking bread. A skill may be taught by breaking down the performance of a task into steps, which can then be practiced.
  2. Knowledge is simply “what you are aware of”. There are two kinds of knowledge: (1) factual knowledge are things that you know; and (2) experiential knowledge are understandings that you have picked up along the way.
  3. Talent is “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied.” You may have an instinctive ability to remember names, or be in the habit of playing with numbers and equations in your head – both of these are talents. A talent is any behaviour that you find yourself doing often and which can be applied in a productive way.

Skill, knowledge, and talent are all necessary elements to achieve excellent performance, talent being the most important element. Skills and knowledge can be taught relatively easily, however talent is difficult to teach. For example, one of the key talents required to be a great accountant is “love of precision”. Love of precision is not a skill, nor is it knowledge, but this talent is needed to excel at accounting.

The definition of talent is seemingly innocuous but has a powerful implication – excellence requires talent. A great manager understands that to excel in any role requires talent because each role, when performed with excellence, requires certain recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour.

Understanding the importance of talent, great managers are good at identifying the talents of their people and then allocating each person to a role where they can use their talents most effectively.