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

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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