In an interview with The Washington Post, Bill Boulding, dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, asserts that while many good leaders are simply born that way, people can also be taught to be smart, principled business heads. The world needs smart leaders at its forefronts of innovation and commerce–people like current Apple CEO Tim Cook, General Atlantic’s David Topper, and Xerox’s Anne Mulcahy.
Boulding believes that the skills learned in business school are applicable to more situations than just for-profit business, from social activism to simply finding value in others. A major component in making a good business leader, Boulding says, is not necessarily finding the smartest person in the room, but finding the person who can bring people together through collaboration, who practices compassion and empathy, and who is committed to helping others succeed.
Boulding acknowledges that not everyone is a natural leader; indeed, if a person is “dishonest at their core, you probably can’t educate that out of them,” he says. But business education can give people the leadership skills that they need to succeed by teaching the intricacies and nuances of the situations they will face. A secret to being an effective leader, Boulding argues, is knowing how to unlock value and potential in other people. What Boulding is not interested in are people who look for others too much like themselves— “clones,” as he calls them, people who do not understand how to collaborate or work productively with others.
Indeed “ability to inspire” ranks among Forbes’ “10 Qualities That Make a Good Leader,” which also includes communication, commitment, and honesty—traits that can be explained and made applicable to business via education but which cannot be instilled in a person who already lacks them.
While Boulding understands that the MBA may not be for everyone, he considers the skills learned in an MBA program to be useful and critical in many lifestyles and goals. He “firmly believe[s] that business is going to be the transformational engine of the 21st century, that it’s through business activity we’re going to solve challenges.”
Many people like Anne Mulcahy can be successful without an MBA degree, but Boulding hopes to see new generations of strong leaders choosing to pursue their education. In addition to seeking collaboration, great business leaders have something else in common: a simple desire to change the world for the better.