13 essential leadership skills you might not learn in business school

Most industry leaders are well-acquainted with the world of business school, whether they attended themselves or have hired recent business school grads. They likely also know there are some gaps between the curriculum of a business school and the “real world” that awaits afterward.
Field experience can teach a wealth of lessons, some of which don’t always make their way into the classroom. That’s why we asked a panel of Business Journals Leadership Trust members what lessons they believe should be taught in business school. Below, they share 13 contributions they’d make to the curriculum if given the chance.

1. Practical soft skills.

Given the importance of teamwork and collaboration, I would teach the skills of interacting with and managing a difficult team member. This would include team members at all levels, from managers to subordinates. The development of these soft skills will pay benefits to the employee and the company from day one. – Steve Meads, MidCountry Bank

2. Public policy and administration.

How public policy is made and how government runs are important aspects of a complete business school education. Every day federal, state — and particularly local — government affects how, where, and in what manner your business can develop, operate, and succeed. From monetary, fiscal, and tax policy to local permitting and regulation, enterprises must prepare for challenges and seek opportunities. – Jeffrey Bartel, Hamptons Group, LLC

3. Relationship-building.

Whether it’s your internal team or an external customer, supplier, or banker, your success in the business world is predicated on your ability to build strategic relationships. This requires emotional intelligence, negotiation techniques, and, most of all, an incredible amount of integrity and confidence that you are coming with authentic intent and adding value to every interaction. – Jalene Kanani, NOHO HOME by Jalene Kanani

4. Personal branding.

There is not enough attention paid to the way we represent ourselves both personally and professionally. Our educational systems need to place more emphasis on helping students to define themselves and how they want to be perceived while also assisting them with professional polishing in order to represent themselves in the best light, both in-person and online. – Allison Kreiger Walsh, The Recovery Village

5. How to hire.

Businesses are not great at hiring. You may have had successes and failures and have a sense of your track record. For many, it’s hit and miss. You never know what you are going to get. Yet, there are so many things you can do and put in place in your business to ensure that your track record, though never perfect, will be successful. – Steve Potestio, Mathys+Potestio / The Creative Party

6. Entrepreneurial thinking.

No matter if one becomes a business owner or not, having entrepreneurial skills is valuable. It’s easy to teach someone systems, tools, operations, the way your business runs, customer acquisition, etc., but it’s hard to teach teamwork, communication, problem-solving, tenacity, creative thinking, initiative, and how to find opportunities. – Josephine Firat, Firat Education

7. Professional selling.

Oftentimes new graduates start out in sales positions, regardless of their major — some studies state the percentage is 50% or higher. There are thousands of colleges and universities throughout the country, but very few offer majors, concentrations, or even courses related to sales. Sales have become very data-driven. We need to teach that proper research and planning techniques are the keys to success. – John Lewin, Stivers Staffing Services

8. Improvisation.

Teaching improv is a growing trend in top business schools. This is an endorsement for the trend to continue and expand. I took an improv class just for fun and it turned out to have a tremendous impact on me professionally. Business school is about business basics. Improv is focused on being present, authentic, and agile — all skills needed to succeed as a leader and foster a high-performing team culture. – Craig Parisot, ATA, LLC

9. Emotional intelligence.

The skill I almost wish I’d learned sooner — either at home or in business school — is emotional intelligence, including self-knowledge, empathy, and concern for others. Fortunately, I did learn it — better late than never — and I am a significantly better leader, partner, consultant, coach, and friend for having done so. – Cheryl Williams, Hudgins Williams Associates

10. Storytelling.

Steve Jobs said, “The most powerful person in the room is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” There are no truer words right now. Authentic business leaders learn the art and science of storytelling to ensure their strategies thrive. Great stories inspire us to follow leaders and their ideas — that changes our lives forever. – Susan Lindner, Emerging Media

11. Self-worth.

We have so many qualified graduates who join our team and are clueless about their strengths and the value they add to the team. A course that focuses on self-worth and discovering one’s strengths prior to entering the workforce would give individuals a chance to truly shine. It is great to contribute, and it’s a game-changer when you can identify and communicate your strengths preemptively. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

12. Accepting feedback.

As a hiring manager for countless business school graduates, one thing I would teach in business school is how to accept and adapt to feedback. The most valuable employees and leaders are lifetime learners. Being able to stay humble, understand different perspectives, and adjust to feedback is critical to continued self-development. – Vincent Phamvan, Vyten Career Coaching

13. Failing effectively.

“Failure” — it’s a word many people are afraid of, yet we all do it. However, we don’t all do it well. When we operate under the notion that failure is bad, we forget that failure is part of the process of innovating and growing. Accept failure as part of the process, admit to failure when it happens, adopt the lessons learned and be prepared to fail again and again. Tenacity will pay off in success. – Jennifer Dehan, Velocity Staff
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