A 20th-century approach to leadership no longer serves today’s demanding business environment. It requires a holistic approach and a willingness to continually develop in a complex world. With mental health, sustainability, and responsible leadership no longer as buzzwords but as guiding principles for future leaders and a higher demand for flexibility, leadership needs to adapt and evolve. To approach such challenges, prospective leaders can explore crucial personal development skills fostered during the WHU MBA program.
The WHU MBA program has always kept a keen eye on how best to help its students develop along their leadership journeys. In 2022, it fine-tuned this integrated leadership development module to meet the changing sociocultural environment. Students discover how to lead teams and better understand themselves, graduating from the program with a strongly defined sense of purpose and personal values.
“One can only successfully lead others if one can also lead oneself – which includes personal development and self-reflection,” explains Professor Nadine Kammerlander. Professor Kammerlander teaches the Leadership Essentials class and heads the Chair of Family Business at WHU. “Young talents without self-reflection can become experts in their subjects, but they will not be able to motivate and grow a team. One of our guest speakers, a top management headhunter, explained that she always asks potential candidates about what they are currently working on regarding their personal development. If the candidates reply they don’t need further development, this is a knock-out criterion.”
This is a key point: personal development has an impact on future career progression. Knowing how to manage yourself in different situations when working with different cultures and perspectives can be vital for team success. Through practiced self-awareness, we experience reduced reactivity in high-stress situations, a valuable skill as a leader. “Students learn how to approach others more effectively,” says Professor Juergen Weigand. “I often speak with alumni, and one graduate from the full-time cohort in 2018 told me how understanding themselves has helped them improve in their career. When something goes wrong, they don’t place the blame on others. They evaluate the situation and their own impact.”
Professor Juergen Weigand, who heads the Chair of Industrial Organization at WHU, plays an integral part in the personal development module. With classes exploring personal growth, modules abroad, to the final chapter of the module with the leadership credo. “I ask each student to develop their own personal strategy,” he explains. “Where are you heading? What do you want to achieve? Think about your strengths and weaknesses. This goes into a personal strategy contract, which I invite them to sign and submit. It’s confidential between myself and the student. They keep it with them throughout the MBA and reflect on it at the end of the module with the leadership credo. They step up in front of their peers and present the values and principles that will translate into their leadership style. It can be quite personal and emotional too; you see the impact such development has on them professionally and as people.”
It is this responsible leadership style that leads to the greatest success stories. Maxi Heidenblut, a graduate of the Full-Time MBA program and now Head of ESG and Climate Products for financial service provider MSCI in New York, explains further. “If you do not truly care about your team and your people, provide benefits, and ensure they are treated fairly, they will quit and move on. I think it’s important as a leader to foster a collaborative work culture where people are given room to grow and where they are supported. Gone are the days of managers putting pressure on teams and leading with a stick instead of showing them their potential.”
“In recent years, many companies have been criticized for their leadership styles, and “quiet quitting” has become a trending effect,” adds Professor Kammerlander. “Leaders need to understand that the concept of the “power-reliant leader” is a dying variant that will be replaced by a new style of responsible leadership. These new leaders are responsible because they care about social issues and their employees. But they are also responsible regarding environmental issues as they understand that such a long-term sustainable focus is important to their firm’s internal and external stakeholders.”