Is an MBA the golden ticket to be a successful leader? Stellenbosch Business School Skip to main content
When you think of a great leader, who comes to mind? Perhaps it’s a political figure

When you think of a great leader, who comes to mind? Perhaps it’s a political figure, like Nelson Mandela or Winston Churchill; or maybe it’s someone from the business realm, like Steve Jobs or Henry Ford. While every great leader is unique, and in many ways a product of their historical context, they all share one vital characteristic: they inspire people. This is the essence of effective leadership, regardless of whether you’re commanding legions on the battlefield or managing a team in a tech start-up.


Many aspiring business leaders turn to institutions of higher learning to develop these core leadership skills, particularly through MBAs and executive programmes. But the extent to which the ability to lead, move and inspire people can even be taught in the classroom is increasingly held to scrutiny. You’ve likely heard the argument before: leaders are born, not made. But while there is some truth to this statement, —not everyone is cut out to be a leader, or even wants to lead. So, there’s more to leadership development than meets the eye.


What makes a successful leader?

A great leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. This definition, from US-based professional speaker John C Maxwell​, encapsulates what it is that separates your Martin Luther King Jrs from your Martin Shkrelis, as well as the key difference between successful leadership and mere management.


People are far more likely to follow someone they trust, and are in turn more likely to trust someone who they believe is qualified to lead them. Unfortunately, businesses consistently fail on this front. Drawing on decades of research from around the world, Gallup has found that around 82% of companies fail to choose qualified managers​​. This leads to poor management and low employee engagement, which directly affects factors like job satisfaction and business growth. Successful leaders, in contrast, are able to leverage their qualifications and experience to motivate, engage and inspire the people they work with.




What does an MBA offer aspiring business leaders?

While an MBA is by no means a golden ticket to automatically being a highly effective and inspiring leader, it does provide the opportunity to acquire the tools, connections and experience needed to succeed as a leader in the modern world. Furthermore, an MBA that focuses on leadership development and fostering responsible leadership will equip students with core skills needed to lead with success and deliver organisational performance.


It’s important to remember that no one starts out being a successful leader, no matter how charismatic or well-spoken they are. Only when they’re in a position to lead people and overcome a challenge – be it meeting sales targets or taking a stand against social injustice – are the conditions in place for them to apply their leadership skills and make a positive impact. When that time comes, having an MBA under one’s belt will only add to the theoretical, practical and experiential resources available to lead effectively.


How USB sets successful leadership in motion

At the University of Stellenbosch Business School, we are firm believers that leaders are developed, not born. As such, each MBA student follows his or her own tailored Personal Leadership Development Journey in the Leadership Development Module. This journey focuses on developing their personal leadership, relationship leadership and organisational leadership skill set so that they will have the resources needed to inspire those around them and deliver tangible organisational performance.


The following diagram illustrates how the core intelligence competencies acquired in the USB MBA’s Leadership Module reinforce the three primary dimensions of high-performance leadership:


“Getting an MBA is not akin to being sprinkled with fairy dust. It does not turn the beast into beauty, nor make a business leader from a person that was never destined to end up in a leadership position. An MBA, and especially a good MBA, is no doubt a career accelerator. It takes the successful graduate through an accelerated learning path. On good MBA programmes, applied learning and critical insights into organisations of all forms prepare graduates with the knowledge and skills, as well as some battle scars, to operate at increasingly higher levels, in a shorter time period.”

– Martin Butler, Programme Head: MBA, USB


Do you have what it takes to be a successful leader? The Leadership Development Module included in every MBA programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School will equip you with the skills and experience needed to inspire positive change in the world around you.

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