How My MBA Challenged Everything I Knew About Management
I had a rather unusual background before moving into management. I started working in a government department, and while I only interacted with very few people, I began to see the value in building relationships with colleagues and people outside of my immediate team – people I now know as stakeholders.
After 18 months I left my first role and decided to work for one of the big 4 banks. Beginning in a customer service role, over 6 years I moved through a variety of different areas and finally left when I had my first child.
I saw this as a chance to move into something different again and began my first foray into a sales role – selling children’s clothes via a party plan model – and I loved it! This role used relationships, personal knowledge, life experience and a fair amount of “sizzle” to achieve; and I did just that for a few years while my children were young. I was successful despite my lack of experience, but I also learned a lot about myself.
I learned I could build relationships, and that I had a talent for drawing information out of people and leveraging that to find solutions, meaning I could transfer my skills and success to a variety of industries and products. However, I had no formal training, and as I moved into more complicated and high value sales roles, this was a gap that definitely limited my options. I was then fortunate to secure a role with a large corporate which offered exceptional training and development – and I took another path in my career. Ultimately, I had the privilege to move into my first people management role – and I found my “groove.”
After 4 years working with groups of highly talented and motivated team members, I sought another challenge; one that opened my eyes to a whole new world.
I come from a family who are university educated. I followed the same route and started a degree straight out of Year 12, but at the time did not understand the value of a structured learning environment, so I opted for the path of learning via experience; one which I have enjoyed immensely. However, after beginning my first management role in the world of higher education, I began to see things from a different perspective.
Most of my working life has been focused on my team, my department and their related results. I didn’t understand the concept of a strategic view of an organisation, nor did I see how a formal qualification could provide more value than what I had learned via “doing” over many years in many different organisations. Interestingly, others didn’t appear to always value my experience as I moved into more senior roles, which limited my career growth options.
So, after reflecting on my goals and aspirations, I took the plunge after nearly 8 years in formal management roles and decided to commit to an MBA. It wasn’t an easy decision, as I had not studied at a tertiary level for over 30 years and wasn’t sure if I had what it took and whether I could cope with the workload (just quietly I also wasn’t sure that it would offer me anything different)! I did however have something to prove, as I was managing staff members with a far more extensive range of qualifications that I had.
From the very first subject, I absorbed and had more “ah ha” moments than at any other time in my career. I saw the organisation I worked for in a completely different light and was able to put a formal name to techniques I had absorbed over the years. “So what,” you may ask? What does that change if you already know the techniques and use them daily? It changes a lot! I could finally discuss them in a strategic context. I could demonstrate how a decision I made would affect another business unit and provide a solution that was based on a proven theory, rather than my gut feel. Whilst I had always thought of myself as fairly confident, I now had an external process providing validation of my knowledge and skills – that helps you to build confidence and belief pretty quickly! I learned a completely different way of presenting my views and information overall.
The MBA didn’t replace my years of experience. What it did do was validate them and provide a framework that others recognised and had belief in. It provided credibility within my organisation and also ensured that if I moved outside my current organisation where my brand and reputation already had credibility, I had another impartial and recognised validation of what skill level I operated at.
An MBA also challenged some of my long held beliefs, particularly around leadership – an area I had always prided myself on – and this was a good thing, as it took me out of my comfort zone and provided the interest and motivation I needed. It enabled me to engage with stakeholders and a cohort outside of my day to day team – also invaluable.
So for any experienced manager who may be wondering whether a formal qualification will make a difference – it will! Capitalise on your natural curiosity. Whether it is personal validation, a requirement of your role, or to step outside or up within your industry, an MBA will provide significant value; financially, professionally and personally. Based on what I have achieved both personally and professionally since graduation, I highly recommend making the commitment.
This article was written by Kerry Kingham, 2016 AIB MBA Graduate, and was originally published on LinkedIn. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB.