SYDNEY WANTS TO F LEXIBLE AND EXPERIMENTAL
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.”