The Australian - The Deal - - First Up - GREG WHITWELL Dean, Univer­sity of Sydney Busi­ness School SUE O’REILLY

THE sales pitch for the Univer­sity of Sydney Busi­ness School’s MBA of­fer­ing – “Me, First” – might seem specif­i­cally de­signed to at­tract self­ab­sorbed nar­cis­sists. But is not the idea at all, says dean Greg Whitwell.

These two short words, punc­tu­ated as they are, sum­marise a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent ap­proach to MBA cour­ses with the Univer­sity of Sydney Busi­ness School at the fore­front; the re­al­i­sa­tion that ef­fec­tive man­age­ment and lead­er­ship skills are fos­tered by fo­cus­ing first on in­di­vid­ual, per­sonal trans­for­ma­tion. “What stu­dents want from an MBA, and what em­ploy­ers are look­ing for to­day, has changed”, Whitwell says. “This change can be sum­marised as a move from ‘trans­ac­tion’ to ‘trans­for­ma­tion’.”

Stu­dents were once in­ter­ested pre­dom­i­nantly in learn­ing about man­ag­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, now they are equally, if not more, in­ter­ested in man­ag­ing self, he says. “So one of the key fea­tures of our MBA, we quite de­lib­er­ately made a point of of­fer­ing, is course con­tent shaped around ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing learn­ing though do­ing, in other words with a fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing the per­sonal qual­i­ties and ca­pa­bil­i­ties that help ac­cel­er­ate mid-ca­reer devel­op­ment.”

At­tributes which help fos­ter busi­ness suc­cess, he says, in­clude strong self-aware­ness, self-man­age­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties and in-depth un­der­stand­ing of the qual­i­ties re­quired to be an ex­cel­lent coach, mo­ti­va­tor and leader of oth­ers.

“The ac­qui­si­tion of knowl­edge has to be ac­com­pa­nied by the abil­ity to ar­tic­u­late a clear point of view, and one thing we do that sets us apart, I think, is our fo­cus on crit­i­cal think­ing. It is a re­quire­ment through­out our pro­gram that stu­dents have to ar­tic­u­late or ar­gue a real case-in-point with busi­ness and com­mu­nity lead­ers. We also pro­vide train­ing in how to en­gage with the me­dia, how to max­imise the ef­fec­tive­ness of your thoughts and ar­gu­ments as writ­ten opinion pieces, and how to make pre­sen­ta­tions in front of a cam­era, all de­signed around de­vel­op­ing first-rate com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.”

Another at­tribute on which em­ploy­ers place a pre­mium is the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively with oth­ers. Com­pa­nies need ex­ec­u­tives who are not only able to work col­lab­o­ra­tively with oth­ers but who are “em­pa­thetic, who en­gage in ac­tive lis­ten­ing, take a pos­i­tive ap­proach to oth­ers and know how to mo­ti­vate teams”, he says.

“In the past, many stu­dents en­rolling in MBAs were fo­cused on the ac­qui­si­tion of dis­ci­pline knowl­edge and tech­ni­cal skills. But now, I think, the fo­cus for them and for em­ploy­ers, is broader: it’s about de­vel­op­ing the abil­ity to deal with com­plex, messy prob­lems, to syn­the­sise, to dis­til in­for­ma­tion, and then ap­ply it,” Whitwell says.

“But what we are re­ally try­ing to con­vey is that we seek to un­der­stand each person as an in­di­vid­ual, that our cur­ricu­lum is tai­lored to each stu­dent’s in­di­vid­ual needs and as­pi­ra­tions, and that our pro­gram is flex­i­ble and gen­uinely ex­pe­ri­en­tial.”

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