To MBA, or not MBA… that is the question?

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Question: Does completing an MBA give you a ticket to success as a business leader?
Answer: No, it doesn’t.

The virtues of an MBA are often hyped and rarely understated. So why is it such a big deal? Well the average MBA will cost a student 25K UKP/50K USD, so the universities have a good reason to let you think it is. But I’m not cynical. Quite the opposite. I think that the price of an MBA is worth it, but not for the reasons so many people lament on about. To dispel to some myths: An MBA does not train you as a business leader. An MBA does not open a door to the boardroom. An MBA does not turn you into a commercial genius.

So what does an MBA give you that I think is still a big deal? An MBA gives you the basic education of how an organization in business works; how it makes profit, how it markets its products and why, how business economics and finances work, how strategic decisions get made, etc. etc. It gives you the full business context. Don’t underestimate the value of gaining wide and diverse knowledge on business basics. It’s what will put you on the path to being a CEO, Commercial Director, COO, or whatever your career goal.

But don’t be fooled into thinking an MBA is the end to becoming a business leader. It is merely the start. My concern in general is that MBAs are described as the making of a business leader. This is crap. Why? Well an MBA is an academic course, based on theories and science. It is not a course on people – it doesn’t put you in the leadership position in which to learn from. I’m afraid the leadership bit comes when you’ve gained experience and demonstrated how you can apply the theory in a real business situation, and gained followers who are willing to apply it for you.

The real benefit of an MBA in my experience is that it gives you a vocabulary and context in which to understand and add value to a business. Whats more it gives you confidence and a common language in which to engage colleagues right across the organization. I found that the learning from an MBA removed a cloud of self-doubt when put into new situations outside of my core area of expertise, and it created confidence when taking on new challenges.

In modern times, its possible to do an MBA whilst you still work, as well as the more traditional classroom-based courses. There are a number of affiliations between top Universities and online education specialists. For example, in Europe you can take an online MBA with the University of Liverpool who outsource to Laureate Education. If you want to take this path, I couldn’t recommend them more strongly, as it was with these guys I took my MBA. If you’re in the States there is an online MBA available with Portland State University for example. For a list of online MBAs available in the US, take a look here. I will be blunt though. Having been through this myself, this is a H U G E commitment both personally and financially – it will be a significant drain on your cash, and if you’re in a relationship, it will probably take its toll on that too. If you’re serious about doing an MBA whilst still in employment, be 150% sure you can cope with the burden on the effort.

Classroom-based MBAs are still popular, such as the one at Cranfield University in the UK or of course the Harvard Business School in the US. With these courses you’ll dedicate your time to your studies and have close interactions with tutors and fellow students. It’s perhaps still the best way to do an MBA, as the interaction creates a productive learning environment. However the downside is that you’ll have to leave employment for a couple of years whilst you take the course, which might be impossible if you have a mortgage and a family to support.

An MBA will give you a rock-solid and complete education on business context across all necessary facets. It won’t be a short-cut to the Executive Suite. But effectively applying your developed skills to a real organization is an opportunity your career will benefit from in enormous ways, so if you can afford it and you have commitment, you should seriously consider an MBA.

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