I have evaluated countless job candidates, many with MBAs. By the time their résumés reach my desk, I assume they have the basic job skills, earned a solid GPA, and racked up an impressive list of extracurricular activities. What differentiates a standout candidate from the pack is whether he or she has the altrocentric leadership skills needed in business.
What is an “altrocentric” leader? In contrast to the egocentric leaders of the past who relied on formal authority to get results, altrocentric leaders keep their egos in check and see themselves as one integral part of a greater whole. They have a more intuitive understanding of the contextual nature of leadership and an empathetic ability to attract, retain, and motivate the increasingly diverse, independent, and remote workforces of the future.
An MBA degree from a top-rated business school still carries considerable value, but the path to the C-suite is no longer paved only with parchment. More important than a candidate’s major, according to 93 percent of employers surveyed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, is a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.
Alas, many MBA programs often focus so intently on technical skills that they neglect to teach the self-awareness, emotional intelligence, self-control, and influencing skills future business leaders will need to thrive in flatter and less-hierarchical organizations.
Although technical skills are important prerequisites, I look at how candidates have applied their skills and experience to influence or lead groups. Several years ago, for example, I interviewed an MBA graduate from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School who in high school worked as a camp counselor for disadvantaged children. His job was to find ways to persuade and motivate the campers to do things they did not want to do. Not only did his experience demonstrate his capacity for self-control, but also I was impressed by the enjoyment he derived from getting the group to take a hike or go for a swim. I hired him.
Altrocentric leaders get tremendous satisfaction from their team members’ accomplishments. It’s a valuable trait in a rapidly evolving business climate with more committees and ad hoc teams than ever before. The executives who make hiring decisions—people like me—want to see evidence not just of leading teams, but also of being a productive team player. Everyone wants to be a leader, but you won’t always be in charge in every situation. And even when you are, you may lack the direct authority that egocentric leaders traditionally rely upon so heavily to get results.
So, whether you are an MBA graduate, current student, or prospective applicant, ask yourself whether you can influence others without relying on formal authority. Can you sublimate your ego for the greater good, or do you always have to be the smartest person in the room? The answer could cost you—or get you—a job.