Real Leaders

What MBA School Doesn’t Teach Business Leaders About Human Nature

To be a successful CEO, Founder or manager, you must prioritize defining your people philosophy and leadership strategies. These key skills, unfortunately, are rarely taught in business school, and must be mastered by anyone managing a team or in a consulting role. 

Looking back on my MBA program during this graduation season, there were only two courses that really helped my business career – Accounting 101 and Organization Behavior 101. I’ve largely forgotten all other classes, and learned essential leadership skills on the job. Why were these two classes helpful? Mastering accounting is essential. You must understand the flow of money to manage even a small department. Mastering organization behavior, how to manage people, is equally, if not more, important. That’s because while accounting is a science, organization behavior is an art. If you are unable to get people behind a mission and plan, nothing good ever happens. While accounting may show you where you’re losing money, it takes problem solving and leadership to get people to fix it.

In my book, “One Hit Wonder, I share lessons learned inside and outside of the business world, based on managing customers, vendors and employees, that worked great at our software startup. These lessons taught me about what motivated people, how they prefer to behave situationally. From these business lessons, I developed a philosophy and strategy to address that fickle, but relatively predictable, thing we call… human nature.

Motivation and Preferences

In my Organizational Behavior class, we studied a book titled, “The Ropes to Skip and The Ropes to Know” by R. Richard Ritti and Steve Levy. You can still order this book online. The premise was simple. There are a few essential things to know about people management, master these, and you can forget the rest. The goal of the class was to help young MBA students get a real sense of organization politics, leadership and human behavior. I loved that class. The two concepts and tools that resonated with me the most were – McClelland’s Needs Theory and the DiSC Personality Profile.  

McClelland states that there are three primary needs that motivate and drive behavior:  1) the need for power, 2) the need for achievement and 3) the need for affiliation.  Power people need to control. Achievers need to win. Affiliate people have a need for acceptance. These needs drive situational behavior. Understanding your primary need, as well as those of others, can help you understand WHY people do what they do.

The DiSC Profile evaluates four main personality profiles, including: (D)ominance, (I)nfluence, (S)teadiness, and (C)onscientiousness. Dominants prefer urgency of action, Influencers prefer innovative action and place an emphasis on people, Steadies prefer harmony of action, and personalities prefer efficiency in action. These preferences also impact situational behavior. 

Understanding your primary personality preferences, as well as those of others, can help you understand HOW people do what they do at work. Taken together, these tools provide the how and why of human nature and can help anyone “predict” situational behaviors. These are very useful tools that every leader should learn. To be an effective manager, you want to develop your own leadership philosophy and strategies for day-to-day communications… or what I call “your rules” (a la Leroy Jethro Gibbs in NCIS).

Define Rules and Strategies

In my leadership book, “One Hit Wonder”, I outline rules that I used with consulting clients and to scale Aspire Software that was fully sold in 2021. The philosophy was based on my experience with human nature and situational communications that worked best.  

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People aren’t the same in every situation. Specifically, as risk increases people act differently… call it pressure. This volatility means that it’s not as important to determine if people are good or bad, but instead, you want to know whether your employees are brave and/or selfless. Good or bad behavior are the situational manifestations of bravery and selflessness under pressure. Based on 30 years of consulting and building a successful startup, I found those traits are relatively rare.  

The following “realities” about human nature are not intended to be dark or negative. It is intended to be realistic, and take into account the fact that human nature is somewhat predicable. (Again, this is my philosophy…  and I am a positive person…)

  • Common sense is not common
  • No good deed goes rewarded
  • Many think the world revolves around them
  • There is such thing as thoughtless
  • There are lots of Kool-Aid drinkers
  • There are heroes

From this I developed, often through failure and hard lessons, some rules and strategies that have worked well as a business leader.

  • Talk less, listen more
  • Develop a thick skin and short memory
  • Avoid self-important people
  • You have to take one for the team on occasion
  • Failure is to be expected
  • The world does not revolve around you
  • Showing up is 90% of the battle
  • What goes around comes around
  • Take the high road
  • Be loyal and trustworthy – mean what you say, and say what you mean.

Nothing is simple with people and organizations. But by having a leadership philosophy and rules, it can simplify situational decision-making, and improve your success in working with all kinds of people. And because this skill is something that they just don’t teach enough, you will have to learn most of it on-the-job.

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