Thousands of men and women have been admitted to business schools and must commit soon to the school they will attend. No doubt, considerations such as cost, convenience, prominence, your aspirations for the “next job,” and “feel” will play a big role in this decision. But I offer an added–and even more important–element, leadership development.

The world economy is growing at a very rapid pace. The past five years have shown the highest rate of world economic growth since the end of World War II. Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund forecasted world growth for the next two years at 4.9 percent. This sounds like a small number, but in historical terms it is a blistering rate of growth, about equal to the rate of world economic growth during the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th Century. This is an historic moment, a great time to get an MBA—because this rapid rate of growth will create an immense vacuum for trained administrative talent. In short, applicants have made the right decision to go to business school right now.

This growth lifts human well-being. For instance, the growth of the private sector in India lifts four million people per year out of poverty. The private sector pays the taxes that fund our commonwealth. The private sector provides the jobs that feed families. And the private sector innovates relentlessly to provide better products and services. This growth is also a challenge. It may burden the environment. It stimulates massive waves of immigration. It is difficult to sustain for very long periods of time. And it creates economic winners and losers—a democratic and humanistic society should applaud the winners, but it should also worry about a safety net for the losers. Growth is good but must be managed carefully.

What are the constraints on our ability to grow well?

  • It is not manufacturing capacity. We can find all the manufacturing capacity we want—see the offshoring movement.
  • It is not technology. We can invent or license the intellectual property we need to sustain growth.
  • It is not capital. There is more money in the world than people know what to do with.

It is leadership, which I think of as the capacity to recognize problems and opportunities, to assess social surroundings, to analyze alternative responses, to shape an action plan, to enlist others, to communicate well, and to coordinate teams often over time and great distance. Absent sound leadership, good growth will be very difficult (probably impossible) to achieve.

One is not born with these attributes of leadership, one learns them. Thus, the implication is that to prepare for this special moment of history, you should learn not merely the tools and concepts of business, but also the skills of leadership. For instance, Darden’s MBA program provides this mix, and does it very well—recruiters, rankings, and applicants tell us this. In addition, we offer the right process, one that involves high personal engagement on a daily basis, high interaction with the faculty, immersion in practical stories of exemplary leaders, and stretch with plenty of good support. Ours is a very pragmatic program that develops your capacity to have impact quickly and in many settings.

The famous hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” He succeeded in his field by looking farther ahead than his peers. My very strong advice to admitted applicants is to make the choice of which school to attend based on the skills you will need to have for a step-function transformation in your potential and impact, rather than basing your decision on incremental improvement that just prepares you for the next job. The long term outlook for world growth and its need for leadership should play a big factor in your choice.

Posted by Robert Bruner at 04/13/2007 05:13:03 PM