M.S. Rao, ‘Father Of Soft Leadership’: B-Schools ‘Must Reinvent With The Rapidly Changing Times’

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).

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