Blog: Is leadership “overrated”?


Is leadership “overrated”?

Recruiters do not look for leadership skills the most in students. Here is what they actually care about.
Is leadership “overrated”?

Mehr was recruiting MBA students from campus. Lawson gave the interview and exhibited some exemplary traits that are necessary in a leader as he went about on almost a monologue peppered with sentences starting with the word “I”. Another candidate Anam, on the other hand, was not boastful of her leadership capabilities, but she did patiently listen to the interviewer, asked some tough and relevant questions about the role and the company, and a great team player was reflected in her. It was Anam who got a job in the company, and not Lawson.

A recent survey “Are Students Getting the Most from MBA Programs?” conducted by Jeff Kavanaugh suggests this hypothetical scenario may actually be a recurring event in case of hiring graduates.

For recruiters, leadership skills are not the most sought-after skills in business graduates.

According to this informal research, leadership is in fact the second least sought-after skill out of eight career readiness competencies, namely critical thinking/problem solving, oral/written communications, teamwork/collaboration, information technology application, leadership, professionalism/work ethic, and career management (curated from National Association of Colleges and Employers) and creative thinking.

The research underscores one primary finding – recruiters do not consider leadership as an essential skill for employability for MBA graduates. That is why the researcher goes on to say that “Leadership is overrated” in his article on Fast Company.

The survey of over 3000 recruiters and students was conducted to “understand their assumptions about the competencies that lead to success in the job market.” The responses were recorded on a Likert Scale and segregated by recruiter and student – to compare the gaps in perception.

Here are the key findings of the research:

1.   The competencies business students need to be career ready

Respondents were asked the importance of the following eight skills in making student career-ready – ‘Critical thinking’, ‘Creative thinking’, ‘Teamwork’, ‘Communication’, ‘Leadership’, ‘IT’, ‘Professionalism’, and ‘Career Management’.

Difference in perception:

For students, the most important skills are ‘Critical thinking’, ‘Professionalism’, Communication’, ‘Leadership’, Creative thinking’, ‘Career management’ and ‘IT’ (In that order).

For recruiters, ‘Professionalism’, ‘Critical thinking’, Teamwork’, ‘Communication’, ‘Creative thinking’, ‘IT’, ‘Leadership’ and ‘Career management’ are important (in descending order).


Competency Importance by Demographic

The survey reveals a significant difference in how recruiters and students perceive which skills are important. For students, leadership and career management are much more important than they are for recruiters, while skills such as critical thinking, professionalism, and teamwork are perceived less important by students. 

2.   The proficiency of readiness competencies

The respondents (both recruiters and students) were asked the proficiency of students in the above career readiness competencies.

Difference in perception:

For recruiters, the proficiency level of students was average at best – the only anomaly being IT, where the average rating was above 7. In all the remaining skills, recruiters rated MBA graduates below 7.

According to recruiters, students are least proficient in leadership.

To the contrary, for students, the proficiency level was above 7 in all the skills; and above 8 in all but two (IT and Career Management). 

Graduate Perceived Proficiency

The biggest gap in perception about proficiency is in leadership skills. While students have rated themselves as 8.2, recruiters have only given them 5.7.

Both the above findings give an impression that recruiters don’t think students are proficient in leadership skills and also do not consider them really important for employability. According to the research, and the researcher – recruiters are looking for professionalism, critical thinking, teamwork and communication. And students must enhance these skills if they are to enhance their employability. 

The research, by no means, negates the importance of leadership skill in an individual. But it definitely suggests that it may be an overrated skill for employability for business graduates. The rationale behind this finding takes one back to the age old argument about leadership –

Are leaders born or made?

Leadership happens to be a skill that cannot really be taught in a classroom – it is something which one acquires with different experiences of working. For Mehr, leadership, then, may well be overrated – that’s why she chose to hire Anam and not Lawson!

All characters appearing in this article are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Topics: Leadership

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