The traditional model of a business leader has been well and truly broken in the last 30 years or so. The smartly dressed man in a pinstripe suit with a well-to-do accent that was synonymous with running the large monolithic corporations of the early 20th century is no longer the only mould that a CEO or Managing Director can be cast from.
Instead, modern CEOs include people from all different races, genders, and backgrounds. There are people that have worked their way up through the ranks and others that have been dropped into a senior position. There are people with connections and sometimes people without. There are also often people than shun the traditional attire, swapping suits and ties for jeans and T-shirts.
Big names like Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Microsoft’s founder and former CEO Bill Gates both dropped out of college to focus on their businesses. Given that, it’s perhaps reasonable to question whether attending a higher educational institution is even necessary for you to be a successful business leader.
However, many still do get a degree and even go on to get post-graduate qualifications like an MBA or even a DBA. But does this make someone a better business leader?
It is definitely not just a case of attending any university. Some have built a reputation for providing a springboard into specific careers, such as business, politics, or sport.
We can see this at work in almost every country and in many different spheres. The vast majority of British Prime Ministers have studied at Oxford, while many of the most famous Silicon Valley CEOs have graced the halls of Havard. This even applies to the world of poker, as Britain’s Warwick University has produced many successful online players.
Therefore, attending a low-ranked college may not help you to take up a role as a business leader. Similarly, attending a more prestigious university may help you land a senior job, but it doesn’t necessarily make you better at it.
Not all universities are created equal. Some offer a better quality of teaching thanks to their faculty of better and more experienced lecturers and researchers. Therefore, a degree from a US community college won’t carry the same value as one from an Ivy League university.
But while we’ve seen that some universities produce more business leaders than others, it is not necessarily because of the quality of their course material or teaching staff. There are many other factors at play.
Universities that are already known for producing more CEOs are likely to attract more people that want to eventually work in that role. Therefore, they may have gone on to take up leadership positions regardless of their education. These future leaders will also mix and mingle together during their time at university, building networks that can help them to be better connected than the majority of people.
Additionally, there is the fact that universities with long histories of producing business leaders are likely to have connections to their successful alumni, providing better networking opportunities with the wider world.
Therefore, it is often the extra-curricular elements of a university degree that can help someone get further in their career.
Regardless of the course you study, universities in most Western countries are geared towards promoting critical thinking. Students are encouraged to go off and find sources on their own, often ones that contradict each other.
Critical thinking is a vital skill for being a business leader as you often have to question your own assumptions and need to be open to being challenged by the people around you. It is widely agreed that the best leaders are ones that are more open to listening to the views of others, and being a better critical thinker can certainly help with this.
Overall, it’s hard to say definitively that university makes you a better business leader. The only thing we can say is that there are definitely factors that could help someone to become one. A stronger network with exciting business people, a student body of like-minded people, and critical thinking skills are all ingredients that can help business people succeed.