New research has revealed that a Master of Business Administration (MBA) education can help develop and enhance specific psychological attributes.
As one of the leads on the research, Dr Adrian Kuah – Associate Professor of Business at James Cook University in Singapore and formerly MBA Director at Nottingham Business School in the UK – explained, “MBA programs have traditionally played a major role in developing functional knowledge and expertise in promising managers, alongside their abilities to achieve personal and organisational goals. Increasingly, MBA programs nowadays also focus on developing soft-skills in managers, in forms of negotiation, communication, team work and leadership.”
He added, “Our research is interested to see if this is indeed the case and this research reveals that MBA education is indeed valuable in terms of enhancing one’s psychological resilience in self-efficacy (SE), emotional intelligence (EI) and locus of control (LoC), which are critical components of soft skills development. Our refreshed MBA program at James Cook University in Singapore took these factors into account to build in critical components of assessments.”
People with these attributes have a higher ability to identify important social cues in their environment, which in turn helps them be more adaptive in the workplace. What’s more, higher EI is also associated with higher leadership effectiveness.
The research was conducted in collaboration with co-authors Dr Claire L. Thompson, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Central Queensland University (formerly at James Cook University in Singapore); Ms Regina Foong, Clinical Psychologist at James Cook University in Singapore; and Professor Eddy Ng, Visiting Professor of Organisational Behaviour at James Cook University, and the James and Elizabeth Freeman Professor at Bucknell University.
As part of the research, a number of MBA participants took part in the experiment over a 1-year period, alongside other participants enrolled on a psychology research program and non-students as control groups.
On top of the changes to SE, EI and LoC, the research also observed a significant increase in locus of control-internality (LoC-I), referring to the belief that consequences of events are a result of one’s own behavior, and a general increase in locus of control-powerful others (LoC-P), referring to the belief that outcomes in life are determined by those more powerful than oneself.
Associate Professor Kuah noted, “It is plausible that the MBA program is the causative factor in the psychological changes, given that the same results were not observed in our control groups.” This implies that:
- MBA candidates believe that they can play their own required role to achieve their desired goals,
- but still accept that there are more powerful others around them.
Crucially, this study is the first of its kind conducted in an Australasian setting, despite the participants comprising of both local and international students. Associate Professor Kuah pointed out that “This is an interesting part of the study, taken together with the characteristics of Asian societies with a ‘collectivist’ disposition. There is greater acceptance of external control and interdependence in Asia that explains the increase in LoC-I and no reduction in LoC-P.” He added, “We also found that the initial LoC-P levels best predicted students' final GPA, even after accounting for demographic factors.”
Professor Abhishek Bhati – Campus Dean of James Cook University in Singapore – pointed out, “Taking this research into account, educators from the Singapore campus of James Cook University strive to push boundaries and embrace new ways of nudging students towards success.”
The Singapore campus of James Cook University is also a member of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and is currently undergoing the process of accreditation which is a rigorous external review of a school’s ability to provide the highest quality programs.
Apart from constructive verbal feedback, Associate Professor Kuah explained that “Our research identified other activities, such as self-reflection on interpersonal competencies, which cultivate emotional and social competencies. Furthermore, we communicate key learning outcomes in our subjects that directs our students’ efforts and behaviours toward specific activities and goals. By doing so, we encourage students to realise that the endeavours will surely bring good results.”
Summarily, the research findings show that psychological competencies in SE, EI and LoC can indeed be developed, and MBA programs should not only focus on the development of knowledge, skills and abilities. To achieve organisational goals with other people, domains such as self-efficacy and emotional intelligence must be considered as important parameters alongside technical skills.
This understanding can also help educational institutions to stay relevant and competitive by equipping students with necessary competencies for a constantly-evolving business climate.
Thompson, CL, Kuah, ATH, Foong, R, Ng, ES. The development of emotional intelligence, self‐efficacy, and locus of control in Master of Business Administration students. Human Resource Development Quarterly. 2019; 1– 19. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrdq.21375
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