M.S. Rao: "The future of management education is promising globally despite being beset with several challenges presently"
M.S. Rao is one of the most recognizable names in business education in India. He was also nearly one of millions of victims of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic.
An acclaimed speaker and the author of more than 50 books, Rao contracted Covid in early 2022. It caused a stroke and he lost function in parts of his body, including his right hand. He was bedridden for 5 months.
Recovering from his home in Delhi, the Indian Air Force veteran, longtime educator and consultant, and "father of soft leadership" tells Poets&Quants that "I am passionate about teaching, writing, speaking, and consultancy. I will return to the classroom soon. I will author books. My message is to be resilient. Never give up."
PRACTITIONERS OF 'SOFT LEADERSHIP' INCLUDE GANDHI, MLK, DALAI LAMA
M.S. Rao: "With more millennials and the entry of Gen Z who are smart and ambitious, soft leadership is more essential than ever before"
Named by Thinker360 as a #1 influencer in entrepreneurship, culture, and business strategy, Rao is an international leadership expert and acclaimed executive coach, educator, author, speaker, and consultant with 40 years' experience in leadership development. Until his illness, he taught in private institutions in India and conducted training programs for various corporates and educational institutions - work he intends to continue when he is fully recovered. Among his most well-known works are See the Light In You, 21 Success Sutras For Leaders, and Vision 2030: One Million Global Leaders. The latter book highlights his passion for students and vision for India to grow as an economic superpower through the training of a million student leaders; he says so far he has taught and trained more than 50,000 toward the goal.
Rao is perhaps best known as the "father of soft leadership," emphasizing such traits as character, charisma, and conscience to effectively lead organizations. He points to historical examples: Benjamin Franklin, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama all practiced or practice soft leadership, Rao says, contributing extensively to society and making a difference in the lives of others.
"Soft leadership," Rao wrote in CEOWorld in 2020, "is not a submissive leadership or a lame-duck leadership but an assertive leadership where soft leaders adopt pleasing and polite communication to execute their tasks. It is a blend of courageous leadership, thought leadership, servant leadership, and inspirational leadership. Succinctly, soft leadership can be defined as the process of setting goals; influencing people through persuasion; building strong teams; negotiating them with a win-win attitude; respecting their failures; handholding them; motivating them constantly; aligning their energies and efforts; recognizing and appreciating their contribution in accomplishing organizational goals and objectives with an emphasis on soft skills. It is based on the right mindset, skillset, and toolset."
IN A FAST-CHANGING WORLD, 'SOFT LEADERSHIP IS VERY MUCH ESSENTIAL'
As Rao tells P&Q, soft leadership "can be defined as the process of setting goals; influencing people through persuasion; building strong teams; negotiating them with a win-win attitude; respecting their failures; handholding them; motivating them constantly; aligning their energies and efforts; recognizing and appreciating their contribution in accomplishing organizational goals and objectives with an emphasis on soft skills. It is based on the right mindset, skillset, and toolset.
"Since the world is changing fast, this leadership perspective is very much essential."
B-schools have a vital role to play, Rao says. As they face a need to evolve and reinvent, he says, opportunities abound.
"The future of management education is promising globally despite being beset with several challenges presently," Rao says. "B-schools must take corrective measures and adopt innovative methods in course curriculum and teaching pedagogy.
"There must be coordinated efforts from all stakeholders including industry, educational institutions, faculty, students, parents, thought leaders, non-profits, and governments to ensure relevance and achieve excellence in management education globally."
See the next pages for Poets&Quants' interview with soft leadership guru M.S. Rao about the present and future of management education in India and globally.
Poets&Quants: What is your assessment of the current state of management education globally and in India?
M.S. Rao: There is an immediate need for creativity and innovation in management education globally. What worked in the past will not work in the future. Hence, create new courses and customize them as per the aspirations of students and expectations of the industry. If management education is to survive globally, it is essential to address the challenges and reinvent with the rapidly changing times and technologies. It must be in tune with the dynamic global business environment.
The future of management education is promising globally despite being beset with several challenges presently. B-schools must take corrective measures and adopt innovative methods in course curriculum and teaching pedagogy.
There must be coordinated efforts from all stakeholders including industry, educational institutions, faculty, students, parents, thought leaders, non-profits, and governments to ensure relevance and achieve excellence in management education globally.
What are the great challenges facing business schools as they teach and train the next generation of leaders?
Currently, there is a shortage of faculty with doctoral qualifications in the area of management. Additionally, many senior faculty members are retiring. There is a huge demand and supply gap in faculty. There is also a need for professors in specialized areas such as soft skills.
There is a shortage of faculty who are genuinely passionate about acquiring and sharing knowledge. Some faculty only teach and don't do research, resulting in lopsided teaching pedagogy. Faculty must do research regularly in their areas of specialization to add value. There must be adequate research grants for faculty to do research and present research papers at international conferences. There must be interaction with other faculty members globally to understand, exchange, and disseminate knowledge. Unfortunately, some faculty members end up networking with others rather than adding value to their existing knowledge base during international events and conferences. Some faculty members are busy strengthening their CVs rather than adding value to their educational institutions, students, and society.
The faculty must hit the ground to understand the ground realities. They must visit industry to understand their expectations and pulse. They must constantly learn, unlearn, and relearn to remain relevant and competent.
Where are the best innovations being made in the teaching of soft leadership, or other leadership skills? Who among your colleagues deserves praise and attention? Conversely, what are business schools' biggest blind spots in leadership instruction?
There is an urgent need for innovation globally. I earned my Ph.D. in the area of soft skills in 2007. I wanted to provide sanctity to the discipline of soft skills. So, I worked hard and created several triggers, and finally earned a Ph.D. in 2011. Since I served in the Indian Air Force when I was 19 years old, I developed a keen interest in leadership. I combined soft skills and leadership and coined "soft leadership." During my training programs, executives expressed their unhappiness over the prevailing leadership styles. Hence, I decided to coin a new leadership style that resulted in "soft leadership."
The Eleven Cs of Soft Leadership
There are 11 Cs that constitute soft leadership: character, charisma, conscience, conviction, courage, communication, compassion, commitment, consistency, consideration, and contribution. It is highly challenging for people to cultivate these 11 characteristics. However, if people possess more than six traits, they get into the fold of soft leadership.
I requested Dave Ulrich, the father of modern HR who is my good friend, to create a leadership code and he consented and mapped 11 Cs onto the leadership code, thus giving sanctity to the soft leadership. I published several books and research papers on soft leadership. Here is a succinct definition: Soft leadership is people-oriented leadership without compromising the task orientation. It is through persuasion, not pressure to accomplish goals and objectives. It is leading through soft skills and people skills. It blends soft skills, hard skills, and leadership. It emphasizes the significance of precious human resources. It helps in managing the emotions, egos, and feelings of the people successfully. It focuses on the personality, attitude, and behavior of the people, and calls for making others feel important. It is an integrative, participative, relationship, and behavioral leadership model adopting tools such as persuasion, negotiation, recognition, appreciation, motivation, and collaboration to accomplish the tasks effectively. Succinctly, soft leadership can be defined as the process of setting goals; influencing people through persuasion; building strong teams; negotiating them with a win-win attitude; respecting their failures; handholding them; motivating them constantly; aligning their energies and efforts; recognizing and appreciating their contribution in accomplishing organizational goals and objectives with an emphasis on soft skills. It is based on the right mindset, skillset, and toolset.
Since the world is changing fast, this leadership perspective is very much essential. With more millennials and the entry of Gen Z who are smart and ambitious, this leadership perspective is more essential than ever before. Additionally, this leadership style is the need of the hour with the advent of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR).
Can you explain your Vision 2030: One Million Global Leaders?
I started a nonprofit initiative: Vision 2030: One Million Global Leaders. Here is the story about it. I served in the Indian Air Force due to my love for my nation and passion for the uniform. I served for some years and acquired several qualifications including DME, BSc, MA, PGDCLL, PGDBM, and MBA. After I left the Indian Air Force, I pursued research and earned a Ph.D. in Soft Skills in 2011. I led a painful life both in defense and civil as I was born into a poor family and encountered innumerable challenges in my personal, professional, and social life. Additionally, I encountered some rogue relatives who were responsible for financial challenges to me, my wife, and two sons. While serving in the Indian Air Force I acquired knowledge on leadership as the military makes the best leaders due to the kind of tough training soldiers receive and the kind of unique challenges they encounter during war and peace. Hence, I developed a passion for leadership.
While serving in Indian Air Force, I did not appreciate the way things were happening in India due to the unscrupulous politicians dividing society in the name of region, religion, caste, and communities. Additionally, lots of money goes into the private coffers of politicians rather than reaching the poor people in India. I was very much disturbed by the conditions in Indian society. Corruption has become a cancer in Indian society. Hence, I thought to train leaders with a global mindset to enable them to develop the nation, promote fraternity, and work for global peace and prosperity.
I entered the teaching profession, as educational institutions are the ideal places to shape students and equip them with leadership skills and abilities. Second, I focused on students as they are teenage, and they can be molded easily as leaders the way military recruits the young cadets and grooms them as soldiers and leaders. I started getting overwhelming support from students as they were inspired during my teaching and training programs in educational institutions.
As a leadership researcher, I do a lot of research on various leadership styles and how leadership can be used for the benefit of a global society. During my research, I came to know that there is a looming leadership challenge globally due to the retirement of baby boomers (old people), and Gen Y who are also known by different names including millennials (young people born between 1980 and 2000) are not geared up with global leadership challenges due to lack of effective leadership development training programs. That means when the experienced leaders exit from service, there is an alarming leadership vacuum globally as the young inexperienced people are not ready in the leadership pipeline to take up the leadership roles and responsibilities. Although it is a threat globally, I viewed it as an opportunity to contribute my best. I decided to train students as global leaders to enable them to grow with leadership skills and abilities.
So far, I have taught and trained more than 50,000 people. I started taking the support of social media to articulate my vision and share my articles and videos regularly on my social media accounts. Since I belong to Gen X (middle age), I can serve as a link between the baby boomers and Gen Y to bridge this global leadership deficit. I considered my age and experience in the military and academia, and above all, my interest in leadership and passion for students, an opportunity to serve students to groom them as global leaders. Hence, I pray to God to give me health, knowledge, wisdom, strength, and lifespan to build one million students as global leaders by 2030.
How has coronavirus impacted your Vision 2030 goal? How has it changed graduate business education - and how has it NOT changed it?
Yes, coronavirus has had an adverse impact globally. Currently, there are several online courses available globally. Online management education brings down the cost of education, improves the quality, ensures accessibility to all, and maintains a democracy in learning. Although there is no significant threat to classroom learning currently, online management education is certainly a challenge soon. Additionally, knowledge is easily available online due to information overload. Those who are smart and intelligent acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities online to become successful executives.
Hence, B-schools must keep these aspects in view and innovate accordingly. They must recruit faculty with research acumen who are passionate about sharing knowledge with students. The faculty must walk their talk and share their experiences actively with students to ensure takeaways and bring the desired improvement in management education. Here are some tools and techniques to convert B schools into leadership schools:
The faculty members in the B-schools must be a judicious blend of industry, teaching, training, consultancy, and research experience so that they will be able to bring their diversified experience to the classroom and add value to their students. The students must have minimum work experience before pursuing management education. It helps students understand and appreciate the content delivered by the faculty in the classroom.
Management education must be student-centric, not faculty-centric. At times faculty teach what they know based on their knowledge, expertise, and comfort zone. In fact, what is essential is to find out the requirements of students and conduct classroom sessions accordingly to ensure effective teaching takeaways.
Faculty must interact with students regularly to understand their expectations and pulse through feedback. It helps faculty mold teaching pedagogy accordingly. It helps bridge the gap between the faculty and the students.
Faculty must organize workshops linking academia and industry. Such initiative helps identify and explore the causes of concern plaguing the management education currently to address them earnestly. It also bridges the gap between the campus and the industry.
There must be effective interaction between academia and industry. They must collaborate and work together to understand the problems and prospects. They must also exchange experts to add value to the classroom teaching. The teaching pedagogy must be case study and activity driven. Theory alone doesn't work. Therefore, it is essential to share some theories followed by the experiences of faculty and industry experts. It calls for 'team teaching' where both scholar and practitioner teach in the classroom.
What other advice do you have for business schools?
The educator teaches from a scholarly perspective and the industry expert teaches from a practical perspective. It helps students understand both theory and practical perspectives on management education. The industry must share its requirements with B-schools to enable them to create course curricula accordingly. Currently, B-schools shell out students with an outdated curriculum that doesn't align with industry expectations. Therefore, B-schools must do intensive research about the expectations and aspirations of the industry on a short-term and long-term basis to create a course curriculum. Additionally:
B-schools' curriculum must be multidisciplinary with an integrated approach to learning. It must include various aspects such as managing conflict, negotiations, communication, hard skills, soft skills, leadership, and entrepreneurship to name a few.
B-schools must compete and collaborate as per the situation. They must embrace technology to ensure innovation in curriculum and teaching pedagogy.
B-schools must encourage faculty to do intensive research in their areas. They must encourage faculty to publish research papers in the area of specialization with an eye on the future.
B-schools must emphasize intellectual rigor in academics and teach life skills. They must develop leaders through creative transformation. They must focus on hard and soft skills to shell out successful executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders.
The teaching pedagogy must contain real-life learning, experiential learning, discovery tips, case activities, and simulations with exposure to the industry. It must contain live case studies in the classroom to enable students to relate theory with practice. Encourage students to view the industry from multiple perspectives. Involve them in cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives to broaden their mental horizons. The curriculum must be innovative with cutting-edge case studies. It must handle volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity effectively. It must emphasize ethical values. For instance, the Dallas B-school introduced liberal studies into the curriculum and initiated a series of intellectual and ethical exercises to shell out ethical leaders.
Encourage students to choose their electives outside their core domains. It helps them come out of their comfort zone and explore new areas to expand their knowledge base. They will be able to interconnect various organizational issues easily and resolve the challenges effectively when they hit the corporate world. Avoid outdated courses and streams. Introduce courses which will be in great demand in future. It helps students enhance employability and ensure employment. Design new programs with innovative and flexible curricula to meet the expectations of contemporary companies. Globally well-established companies must grant funds to deserving students. They must also offer grants to passionate faculty who are keen to pursue research.
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