Business Schools Focus More On Soft Skills

May 6, 2011

TeamworkAccording to The Wall Street Journal, business schools are focusing more on "soft skills" to help students become successful business leaders.

"Hard skills", such as finance and accounting, have long been the staple curriculum for business students; however, more and more employers and recruiters have begun evaluating candidates' leadership skills to determine, for example, whether prospective hires can comfortably work one-on-one with peers or subordinates. As CNN Money reported, recent research from the Harvard Business Review showed that success in C-suite jobs--the highest level executive roles such as Chief Technology Officer and Chief Marketing Officer--depend more on leadership skills and an understanding of business fundamentals rather than technical skills and functional knowledge.

Furthermore, a study by DePaul University researchers showed that managing workers and decision-making were most important to acting managers. Yet, among the 373 business schools that were surveyed, just 13 percent and 10 percent of required classes, respectively, covered those subject areas.

"Business schools are falling short where it matters most," said Erich Dierdorff, one of the study's researchers.

Professors and students say that part of the problem could be that soft skill courses are less respected than hard skill classes. Some also argue that these skills are difficult to teach in the classroom.

When it comes to interviewing MBA candidates, Deloitte LLP focuses almost exclusively on a candidate's soft skills. For example, candidates are placed into groups where they are to solve a business problem while interviewers watch how they interact with one another and deal with disagreements.

"Those are tough things for an MBA program to teach," said Kelly Marchese, a principal in Deloitte's strategy practice. "Some of it you just have to learn through experience."

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, a Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching study found that most undergraduate business programs do not help students connect their liberal arts education with their analytical business education. As a result students tend to focus more on the business side.

Many business schools, however, are trying to break the habit. At Columbia Business School, for instance, soft skill classes are coordinated by the Program on Social Intelligence and offers classes that teach students teamwork and "self-awareness". Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley has a class that teaches students how to control their type-A personalities. Stanford University has offered a "Touchy Feely" class for more than 40 years where students work in small groups to learn how to give and receive constructive feedback as well as control emotional responses to conflict.

Most students see the benefits of such classes. Former Touchy Feely student Arnulfo Ventura, who received his MBA from Stanford in 2008, said the soft skills he learned in business school played a key role in the successful launch of his own company.

"The real reason why I chose Stanford over other schools was the leadership aspect of it," said Ventura. "The analytical side, you can get anywhere."

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"On the Lesson Plan: Feelings," online.wsj.com, May 5, 2011, Melissa Korn and Joe Light

"Put some punch into your career," CNNMoney.com, May 3, 2011, Elaine Pofeldt

"Wanted: A New Kind of College Business Program," businessweek.com, April 11, 2011, William M. Sullivan

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