THE MBA: USE IT WITH CAUTION

Many professionals engage in this often expensive endeavor to gain business knowledge and skills that will hopefully improve their career mobility, either immediately or in the future.  Once the MBA is obtained, these freshly minted MBAs rush into the world to demonstrate their new found expertise.  The hope is that a clear demonstration of great knowledge will bring forth praise, reward and opportunity.  Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when utilizing your new skills and knowledge in your work place.

I now know what they know.  One common misconception new MBAs adopt is that the knowledge they gain in the MBA program is known by most managers and leaders in organizations.  With the MBA, they can now engage in the discussions with leadership or at least understand what they are talking about.  In most small and medium enterprises, you’ll find that many leaders are not highly educated.  They don’t develop strategies and plans for their organizations using methods taught in MBA programs.  These leaders use their experience and connections within their industries to figure out the direction of the company.  You should never assume what you know is what they know.  The importance of this fact will be shown later on in the article.

My new research abilities will be helpful.  It seems logical that being able to perform research to understand how the market trends, creating a thorough competitor analysis, or developing a roadmap for technology creation would be useful or desired by management.  It is important, especially if it is your job and leadership has requested this information.  If not, many managers and leaders may not understand the methods or the results.  The whole process of the research and developing these helpful results may likely be misinterpreted.

The MBA doesn’t make you a leader.  The MBA has become a science, not a journey into managing people.  No one believes it automatically makes you a leader.  Your individual personality has far more to do with you getting a leadership role than possessing an MBA.  In the book, The Ten Golden Rules Of Leadership, Soupios and Mourdoukoutas posit that leadership requires an unusual composite of skill, experience, and seasoned personal perspective, which include your personal values, priorities, and an ability to build and sustain a respectable quality of life.  I know you’ll want to lean very heavily on the scientific methods you’ve learned to improve business but the soft side will get you where you want to go much faster.

Your new knowledge doesn’t incorporate an understanding of management psychology.  The MBA teaches you about leadership, usually from an ideal perspective.  However, most companies operate far from ideal.  The way many managers and leaders function are known well to psychologists but not to the rest of us, as we believe they operate on a higher standard.  I wish it were always true but it isn’t.  They are just like the rest of us.  Learning these lessons in the workplace can be detrimental to your job, reputation and upward mobility.  Here are some key takeaways from some MBAs with such experiences in the workplace.

  • No acknowledgement. “My manager never even recognized the fact that I graduated with my MBA.  He viewed my MBA as personal development.  He didn’t think it was needed for my job, yet they still paid for my tuition.”
  • They just don’t understand. “After our company was acquired, I created a 20 factor cultural analysis to show our leadership how different the two companies were and how we needed to change to make it work.  I wanted the merger to be successful and I wanted to ensure I had a job for the future.  My boss said that I hated the company and shared my analysis with the General Manager, who I found out later used part of the analysis in his report to the leadership of our new parent company.  Two years later, we had lost so much money, we were sold off again.”
  • I’ll take that. “We needed to create some new technology to grow our business.   My boss asked me to figure out how much we should be charging for the IP we would create.  I did the research and came up with several methods.  He told his boss that he developed a method that was actually 10x the cost of what I had proposed.  We never sold anything.”
  • I’m the boss. “After I graduated with my MBA, a management position opened up. My COO tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to interview for the position.  I thought this was a good sign that I would get the job.  I didn’t even know a position was open.  I found out that there was one other applicant and he didn’t have an MBA.  Unfortunately, the other guy got the job.  The COO didn’t have an advanced degree either.  He was sending a clear message.”

There are too many stories like this to share in a single post.  The important thing to remember is that managers are people.  In most small to medium enterprises, these managers are not highly educated.  They have been put in power due to circumstances that probably weren’t dependent upon their use of a high degree of intellect but they do feel a strong urge to lead, even if they don’t know how.  They also don’t want to look bad in front of their boss, as they worry it might cost them their job.  Today, managers worry about that more than anything else.    While you’ll want to show off what you know, it does come with consequences.  If you’re in an organization that appreciates what you have to offer, the consequences will be good.  If they don’t need it or want it, you may find that the consequences hamper your upward mobility and you’ll encounter experiences like these that will clearly articulate what management thinks of your MBA.

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