Six vital C-level executive skills MBA programs don't teach

Office politics and talent development are just two of the skills that Mary Shacklett notes MBA aren't teaching that CXOs need in everyday work.

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I was recently asked by a university with an MBA program to deliver a guest lecture on CXO skill sets needed by companies today. The list of skills was long, which made it hard to select what to present in a 50-minute time slot.

Today, like 30-40 years ago, colleges and universities offering MBA degrees continue to miss the boat on key skill sets that CXOs require; in part, this is because these skills are not easily learned in the classroom. The other shortfall of a classical MBA education is that so much of what is being presented is theory and not practical "street side" experience that CXOs encounter every day.

The following is the list of CXO skills that I don't see MBA programs teaching. Please post in the comments if you'd like to add anything to my list, or if you have participated in MBA programs that do offer instructions in these areas.

1: Business partnering and negotiation

Even very large enterprises realize that in today's global economy, it is both unwise and impractical to "go it alone." They look for strong business partners, and they form alliances.

Finding the right partners and negotiating fruitful alliances requires skill at the conference table that goes beyond how to run meetings. You must empathize with your business partner's goals, and skillfully negotiate a win-win situation that will work for everyone in both the short and long terms.

Finding the right business partner and defining the right working agreement are extremely important. There are few bigger messes than unwinding wayward partnerships and dealing with the political fallout.

2: Understanding operations and profit bleed

CXOs understand that they are hired to deliver strategic thinking and organizational breakthroughs, but unless they have a handle on the mundane aspects of operations, they will struggle to find ways to effectively marry strategy to business performance. Unfortunately, MBA programs almost exclusively focus on marketing, revenue generation, and working with the financials. Few programs equip students with a sound understanding of operations and how operational issues can bleed profit margins and diminish company performance.

3: Politics

It doesn't matter how good you are as a CXO if you can't manage the politics. Skill sets that contribute to political dexterity include strong communications and listening skills, the ability to negotiate effectively and to forge cooperative win-win relationships with others, and enough practical insight into human psychology so you can navigate through personality conflicts and resistance.

4: Change management

The velocity of change in organizations today is overwhelming, yet few of us are comfortable with relentless change. Great CXOs assist their people as organizations restructure and roles change. To do this, soft skills and team building are needed. These are skills that MBA programs often neglect.

5: Talent development

Unless you are an Education major, few universities offer courses that focus on developing and recruiting the talents of others; they should, because companies are experiencing great difficulty in finding or developing workers for new jobs with new skill sets. Many enterprises ultimately conclude that they must "home grow" these individuals. HR doesn't know how to affect the knowledge transfers needed for these highly specialized jobs, so CXOs must step in to develop programs that address it.

6: International business

A business colleague teaches Japanese social etiquette to CXOs who do business in Japan. There are cultures where you're not going to get a business deal done unless you fraternize with your executive counterparts socially as well as professionally, as well as cultures where shaking hands is inappropriate, or being a female executive is not accepted. Universities should be teaching these cultural nuances to MBA students, as well as requiring that they take courses in at least one or two foreign languages.

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By Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...