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The New MBAs Who Are Changing the Definition of Leadership

Master AdmissionsChicago Booth The New MBAs Who Are Changing the Definition of Leadership

The New MBAs Who Are Changing the Definition of Leadership

This article was originally published in Forbes Woman. You can see more at this link.

If someone were to ask which countries in the world have more women than men preparing for their MBA by taking the Graduate Management Admissions Test, you might guess the U.S. or Sweden or even Iceland.

You’d be wrong – in fact, more women than men are taking the GMAT in China, Russia, Vietnam and Thailand.

This represents an amazing trend… not only are hundreds of thousands of women preparing to embark on a serious business careers, but they are coming from some countries that have historically seen relatively few women in executive and leadership roles.

This trend is quite a bit different from when I entered business school in 1980.  A generation ago, my class at Harvard Business School comprised 21% women – a number now which has grown to 36% – still low.  Apple launched its initial public offering with a split-adjusted price of $2.75 (now $351). Charles and Diana were about to be wed, China’s Gang of Four had yet to be tried, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were about to define a decade.

Thirty-one years ago, most women who are now applying to business school weren’t even close to being born. Their parents likely had no inkling that their future female offspring would be sitting at a computer taking an English-language standardized test in hopes of embarking on a career in business. They had no idea that these eventual young women would be stepping into a formal program with the goal of walking out with an MBA.

What has changed, and will continue to change, is twofold: women are starting to look at themselves as leaders, and the definition of leadership has changed. Business schools today are not just looking for managerial potential, but are looking for different kinds of leaders:  principled change-makers who show up in the world.

Much More than Management

But many women still believe they cannot gain acceptance to an MBA program because they think they have not yet held a high-ranking title in their company. Or have not managed a team of subordinates.

“Leadership encompasses much more than managing people,” wrote Rose Martinelli, former director of Admissions at the University Of Chicago Booth School Of Business.” Business schools are now equating leadership with influence, or the ability to motivate others toward a shared goal. Stanford Graduate School of Business’ recommendation form includes a “Leadership Behavior Grid” with traits such as initiative, influence and collaboration, developing others, and trustworthiness. Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business defines leadership as “the ability to inspire others to strive and enable them to accomplish great things.” And Wharton places its leadership programs “at the heart of MBA life.”

Leadership can mean anything from running a classroom to being the idea person in your work team. From standing up for an unpopular position, to organizing a food drive. In a nutshell, leadership is about finding the passion inside and acting on it – and that’s what these amazing women from unexpected countries are doing by taking the GMAT and believing in their own leadership potential.

The Essence of Leadership

Furthermore, business schools are actively searching for what women have been known for traditionally: Emotional IQ.  In a seminal article published in a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, entitled, “What Makes a Leader,” Daniel Goleman attempted to answer the question with the attributes of effective leaders.  Goleman, who popularized emotional intelligence with his book of the same name, wrote, “It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant,” he says. “They do matter, but mainly as ‘threshold capabilities.’ But … emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.”

Emotional intelligence is what separates good leaders from great ones.  And business schools want to see people with the raw material to produce nothing less than great leaders.  “We educate leaders who make a difference in the world,” proclaims Harvard Business School’s mission page.

Women are training up, getting their technical chops in order, and are ready to take the next step. They will both influence and be influenced by what is being taught in the leadership component of MBA programs all over the world. And you can bet that when this generation of female leaders matures, we’ll see business and enterprises become even more diverse, more embracing of new ideas and creativity than we can even imagine now.  The world is ready.