Business Education: Being More Personal

What is your statement of purpose? For graduate students, this is a critical piece required while seeking admissions in colleges or universities. They must mention everything from personal background and financial support to choice of university, plans and even community service or charity work done in this statement.

This can be considered a perfect beginning for a journey that looks to create leaders and change evangelists of tomorrow. In the next normal, this statement of purpose does not stop at stage one. Instead, it becomes relevant for every stage that follows.

Let’s reflect on the business leaders everyone looked up to in the last 20 months. A few clear trends emerge on what made them shine. On top of this list was the leader’s ability to play a much larger role than just within their company. Whether it was the behemoths such as Hindustan Unilever, Nestle, ITC, Mahindra Group, Cadbury, Marico or any other sector that was much adversely hit like auto, hospitality or even the tech-led players, employees respected and expected their, leadership to give them a direction and security and also play a larger role for the community.

This ability to bring out one’s best in the face of extreme survival, while also considering the interests of partners, consumers and other stakeholders, is rare.
The speed at which a leader could adapt to newer skills like applying technology and digitisation to creating growth pivots, solving the most traditional business problems with modern applications, restructuring and overhauling business models to become relevant in the short and long term, demand a combination of business, technical and softer skills.

More than ever the pandemic was a reminder that public health challenges in addition to environmental, water, climate are all very real concerns that need a coordinated response. It needs investment and business commitment. There is a special focus on sustainability. Environment, social, governance (ESG) need to meet business and financial acumen in a tight handshake to create efficient solutions. While much is being discussed on this, it is still an area where the talent gap exists, which present-day leaders are constantly looking to bridge.

These are some aspects of the larger worldview. Even on a day-to-day scale, some changes are constantly taking place at the workplace. These range from work from anywhere, to working across teams transcending geographical, functional and disciplinary boundaries to create new work formats that are cohesive but can be chaotic at the same time. Professional and personal life balances and importance to aspects such as employee delight, mental wellbeing have all become areas of focus today.

New business leaders are no longer just the best financial minds that are excellent business strategists with leadership capabilities. They are much more well-rounded in their perspectives, grounded in their approach and have a higher sense of sensibilities and sensitivities. They understand issues concerning countries and communities just as well as they understand issues concerning their companies.

Business schools and management education in India will have to think about all these changes while looking at the mix of their core curricula and extra-curricula with the right weightage attributed to both. The statement of purpose should perhaps be revisited at every stage to remind that purpose continues to be the guiding light in work life as well. But the thing about purpose is that it is unique to every individual. It is a combination of many personal choices that creates the whole person. B-schools will have to find a way to balance all of this and become personal for each student to truly play a role that goes beyond getting the right degree. 

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