Are people born with management skills and leadership qualities? Or is this something an individual develops with experience? These are some questions that have often troubled me throughout the latter part of my undergraduate degree, a confused stage in my life, where I was in a fix deciding if I should pursue my Masters in Management or gain working experience. My family and peers were instrumental in giving me the necessary encouragement in directing me towards my career goals. Even though I wasn`t able materialize on it straight after graduation, I somehow believed that a fair amount of corporate exposure would teach me the skills and give me the practical knowledge, I needed to tread the path of an entrepreneur.
Building up on my academic background, I have completed my Bachelors in Arts & Communication from Christ University, India where I specialised in Journalism, Psychology and Optional English. Being one of the top ranked universities in India, I not only received a strong academic foundation but also a platform to develop myself holistically. Soon after my graduation I took up my first job at Aviva (UK`S largest insurer) outsourced to Bangalore. To start with I was offered the role of a Motor Insurance Sales/Customer Service Advisor. This environment gave me a hands-on experience in interacting with customers in the UK, selling insurance products & services tailor made to the customer needs with a high degree of customer experience.
Professional achievements measured through my performance, initiatives and responsibilities, (in 15 months), elevated me to the position of a Level 2 Claims Analyst: a role that involved a great deal of liability/dispute handling, decision making, negotiation with solicitors/brokers, fraud investigation, resolution and settlement. After 2 years of managing this responsibility, I made a career move into a more challenging and rewarding role in the form of a Business Analyst (Credits/Collections) for the rapidly growing software giant Oracle, Inc.
With five years of experience, my understanding about organizations and my role as an individual has grown leaps and bounds. I have gained insight into how organizations function, the hierarchical structure & the importance of Customer experience. The creative marketing strategies multinational companies utilize to boost sales and the impact marketing has on its audience, inspires me to launch my own business enterprise someday. Who wouldn't like to be their own boss in a company thriving on new creative ideas, making a great deal of money?
Keeping my dreams within my reach, and to make it achievable one day, I needed to start working on those goals and getting all the learning possible. I somehow felt the need to gather all my working knowledge, along with theories that will give me insight, help me develop my skills, and build a strong foundation for managerial responsibilities in the future. Pursuing an MBA, especially in an international arrangement would give me the platform to interact with people from very diverse cultures, share best practices, backgrounds and ideologies. It would give me a broader perspective of how markets function globally and help me get the learning I need to enhance my capabilities, thus providing a strong foundation to build a promising career. Most importantly it will also equip me with the skills that will prepare me to take on bigger roles and greater challenges in an organization. Thus a strong blend between practical knowledge, behavioural patterns at work and learning on management subjects, would help me set up my own business someday and turn my dream into reality.
Reflection on Action:
Through my conversations with people who have completed an MBA and entrepreneurs who have made their vision a reality, I have learned that Management is an ocean that cannot be crossed in a year or on completion of the program. It is a constant learning process through various experiences we encounter on a day to day basis, how we deal with situations and how we counter problems. There are numerous hurdles we are likely to face, in our journey, starting with how we complete given tasks, assignments, what approaches we use to learn, how we manage our time effectively etc. Therefore it is important that we do some introspection to see if we have the necessary skills to tackle these problems, if not work on the required strategies and plans to counter these issues effectively. The ability to resolve these problems effectively is dependent on experiences had in the past and the learning derived from it. "It is vitally important to understand the nature of the problem and define it properly before setting about resolving it." (Linstead et al. 2004)
Preparing for this assignment got me thinking into aspects which I normally would have not thought about. It required me to spend some time introspecting and analyzing my life in more detail. An interesting conclusion could be drawn from doing a SWOT analysis to determine what factors are likely to hinder my progress from completing the MBA and most of all my approaches towards solving them. This has opened my eyes to a whole lot of issues that is likely to hinder my progress from completing the MBA successfully.
Firstly focusing on my academic background with seventeen years of education I have had in India, where the learning was more theoretical. Subjects were taught in class, handouts given, specific texts were followed as per the curriculum. Learning was measured through term tests, mid-term and final examinations where we had to memorize chapters and reproduce information by way of answers to specific questions asked. This was completely a different methodology compared to the education system in the UK which is more of a practical approach to learning. We are expected to refer multiple books, journals, article etc. from libraries or electronic databases. Moreover, we are marked on assessments and presentations which is way different to the Indian system. This difference would require myself to quickly change my approach to preparation and learning.
Secondly I have a little more than five years of work experience. Getting back to academics after a long break seems to be the biggest challenge I`m currently faced with. I haven't done any reading, other than the newspaper, in the last few years. Thus lack of concentration and focus, could possibly lead to lack of preparation, resulting in assignments being undone until the very last minute. This will indirectly impact the quality of information submitted and ultimately lower grades. Another thing that goes against my favor is the fact that I tend to make short drafts initially before a final version is scripted. This seems to be a very tedious and time consuming task, even though improvements in quality and content can be guaranteed. Limited reading habits do not help me in analyzing from wider perspectives and from thinking out of the box.
My time management skill is not something I can boast of. I often see myself putting forward things to a later date or until the very end. Prioritizing on lesser important things gets me more distracted than often. For eg. Instead of reading on related topics pertaining to assignments, I`d probably be involved in social networking sites or music/movie sites on the internet. When it comes to writing my assignment or reading, I quickly lose interest and find it difficult to spark that inspiration again.
I need to improve my understanding on the Harvard system of referencing, because errors of not referencing or citing correctly could result in unintentional plagiarism. Even though I am a confident communicator, however I feel that sometimes I can present in a much more effective manner. Wider reading could broaden knowledge on the subject and improve vocabulary. Besides development and practice in PowerPoint and excel could improvise the effectiveness of presentation. This will give a know-how to balance aspects of presentation by keeping it crisp to the timelines, yet have a lasting impact on an audience, and more consistently.
In the past, at school, I would just read or memorize specific topics for the sake of examinations and score good grades. Here it was more of theoretical and individual learning that was followed. Later at the graduate level, learning was through a combination of lectures, discussion with peers, theoretical and individual of sorts. Very soon things were a little different at my work place where learning was through multimedia presentations, on the job training, sharing experiences or best practices, building professional relationships, etc. I have had a very straightforward approach to learning and what was important was that I adapted to the different learning styles according to changing environments and situation. Most of my learning on tackling situations and solving problems has been based on past experiences, what I learned from those situations, what their outcomes were, etc. Pondering on those experiences may probably make me look at things from different perspectives. If possibly something did not go too well the previous time I have not been skeptical to try out something new to see if this works out, not forgetting to mention that I do some amount of brainstorming before drawing to conclusions. I feel it is better to consider all options at hand before drawing conclusions or taking action for problem solving.
(Linstead etal. 2004) cites (Brown and Duguid 1991) by saying that learning in organizing is not for problem solving alone but focused towards improving relationships whenever people take up to behave in an organized way. He states that this process of learning to relate to circumstances is a form of 'situated learning' among groups who practice this approach, in comparison to those who do individual and isolated learning. However individual learning to me has been useful to understand problems in depth by giving further insight. This knowledge broadens my perspective to come up with various possible resolution methods from theories. Learning styles defers from individual to individual. It is a preferred method an individual uses to learn a theory and concept, which is best suited for them and that could leave a lasting effect. To me learning style develops from past theoretical experiences and also from your personal traits. For e.g. when I was younger I implemented theoretical approaches to learning and it for sure worked for me. As I grew older approaches were different as learning was through the different situation and problems I encountered be it at work or in my personal life.
Kolb`s experiential learning cycle to a great extent relates to the learning style and methodology I have used in the past. From the words of David A. Kolb, he states that learning cycles normally start with some concrete experience. From this we analyze on the situation, through some reflective observations. This gives us possibilities to draw conclusions, as to what happened in the same situation previously and what methodology was used to counter it. If we were successful we look at it as learning experience. On the contrary if it did not go too well, we tend to reflect back and lay down reasons why things turned the way they did. However, it is inevitable that you envision into aspects that could have probably saved you effort or time, irrespective of the fact that it was successful or not. This is known as abstract conceptualization. Thus we may draw conclusions and take up shorter and more effective methods to ultimately implement actions to give you the desired output, which is the fourth stage of the cycle called Active experimentation. This whole process thus creates a new experience which becomes learning unless situations change. Kolb also states that these stages not necessarily need to be followed in the given order. This learning style is vastly used by organizations for problem solving and finding.
A diagrammatic representation below shows Kolb`s experiential learning cycle.
Source: Anon (2009) 'Center for Teaching Excellence, Duquesne University' from http://www.duq.edu/cte/teaching/understanding-students.cfm (Accessed: 06 April 2011)
Even though I relate closely to Kolb`s experiential learning, contrasting views can be seen in the 'International Journal of Lifelong Education' by Miettenen (2000) where he states that the model makes use of different ideologies and concepts from various sources. However these concepts are explained without sufficient reference to the background literature. Therefore he says these concepts remain ambiguous and varied interpretations. Another interesting fact by Smith (2001) 'David. A. Kolb on Experiential Leaning', the encyclopaedia of Informal education. (Retrieved: 06 April 2011) from http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm is that even though learning is considered to be affected by environments, Kolb combines contexts from different sources, irrespective of the limited cultures they come from and experience they have had, hence making it a very subjective theory.
Reading from numerous sources, analyzing and introspecting with relevant approaches has given rise to a repertoire of thoughts towards approaches that I could possible use to enhance future learning and skills to counter problems effectively. With different methodologies in learning, especially with the standards being higher in a Masters degree, preparing for this assignment has sparked in new ideas to approaches I can implement.
In this assignment I have covered aspects which have had certain relevance in my life. Even though I could not conclude my approach to learning through a single methodology, however a couple of theories had elements relevant to practices that I follow. Even though there is no concrete evidence or criticism to evaluate whether a methodology is right or wrong, I believe positives from other theories can perhaps help me to learn better and enhance my problem solving skills.