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Placing Personal Development at the Heart of an MBA

How WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management is meeting the needs of a post-pandemic generation of MBA candidates

The idea that MBA courses should include personal growth and leadership development alongside core knowledge and skills-based modules is one that’s gaining momentum. The challenge lies in understanding and tailoring this to benefit a new generation of candidates – one that has been through the pandemic in the workplace and has a first-hand knowledge of the changing expectations that employees and employers have of their organizations. With insight from Reina Shishikura, Director of the MBA Career Center, and Daniel Weninger, Head of Coaching at the Center for Responsible Leadership, we look at what WHU is doing to help develop the leaders of the future.

“For many of us, we step into our first job, going through the motions day after day. It takes time before we stand back, look at the bigger picture and realize we’re not sure whether it’s where we want to be.” This is a story Reina hears often from students and she believes it’s what drives many to study for an MBA – and to start preparing for the next step.

“We support a journey of self-discovery”

“The MBA Program is a truly transformational journey” adds Daniel, “WHU offers a popular leadership development module alongside thorough career coaching delivered through its in-house Career Center. And this gives students the opportunity to gain not only an academic understanding of accounting, marketing, or economics, but to learn and practice the softer skills needed to effectively lead a team.”

Throughout the MBA, a series of challenging group tasks teach students valuable skills in working with people from different backgrounds and cultures. In addition, a suite of self-reflection tools help them to learn more about themselves and identify what they want from their future.

“From the very first day we set them up for success”

On day one, the Career Center gives students an online assessment. It helps them to identify their professional strengths and tune into their values, beliefs and personality traits. All of which will help them to critically appraise the type of career or organization that will best suit them.”  

As certified Birkman consultants, Reina, Daniel and their teams offer a combination of tailored career and development coaching, designed to help students understand more about how they work as individuals, as team players and also as leaders. It’s an important foundation stone, before embarking on a series of workshops offering a pragmatic approach to topics like personal branding, networking and CV writing, as well as tailoring a job search to the German market if that is their desire.

“Our students are demanding more from us now”

There has been a noticeable shift since the pandemic changed working practices across the globe. Where previously work-life balance was the holy grail, now it’s a ‘blended’ work life. “That might look like taking the kids to school on Monday or blocking out time each day to exercise.” Explains Reina. “This demand for flexibility reflects the belief that we shouldn’t have to compromise our personal lives to enjoy a successful work life. It’s a culture that’s become highly desirable, and our students are eager to find organizations that support these ideals.“

Of course, this requires a flexibility, a resilience and a trust in leadership that has been seen to be vital throughout the pandemic. And as they rise through the ranks, it’ll be this generation of MBA students who press for wholescale changes to company working policies. What’s more, it’ll be this generation who have honed the skills to make it work.

“We’re teaching the post-pandemic skills that leaders need”

“Personally, and professionally, I believe that empathy and emotional intelligence are the top skills that any leader will need to succeed in today’s marketplace. And with that comes being self-aware enough to know where you can make an impact and where you should bring others in to support.

“That’s where the MBA education really makes a difference. Anybody can buy books by Peter Drucker, but it’s the MBA that provides these deep conversations. Students don’t just leave armed with knowledge, skills and ideas, they can see things from different perspectives, challenge the norm and understand how to use their newfound toolset to make a real, tangible difference. It’s this powerful combination that will be key to becoming the thoughtful, well-rounded leaders of the future.”

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