ProGemini Consultancy Group

Progemini Executive Education & Publishing


January-June 2017 Vol 8 Num 4

Developing a Professional Development plan for a MBA leadership course

Syed K.I. Bakht

Innovative Knowledge Institute April 2017



  • Leadership
  • Self-awareness
  • Leadership skills
  • Professional development
  • Individual strategic plan


This paper describes an MBA course assignment, the “Individual Strategic Professional Development Plan”. The assignment consists of three parts, requiring students to: 1) conduct an industry and

job analysis 2) explore, benchmark and develop their leadership skills; and, 3) develop a personal strategic plan for guiding and achieving their leadership capabilities and career goals. As a core competency, leadership is needed by all business and management students. While courses in leadership may offer important theoretical and conceptual guidance for students, our assignment requires students to go further; they must reflect on their own identities (who they are) while considering the necessary and critical routes that must be followed on their paths toward be- coming effective organizational leaders. In dynamic and uncertain global and technological en- vironments, students’ abilities to strategically map their careers and assess and develop key leadership skills critical to career success are more important than ever. Anecdotally, students in post-class assessments have voiced praise for the assignment, citing it as one of the most im- portant outcomes in their MBA experience.

  1. Introduction

Leadership is a foundation course in almost all business programs (undergraduate and MBA) and is also commonly included in degree programs across many other academic disciplines. In addition, many organizations throughout the world offer professional development seminars and executive training sessions on the topic of leadership in order to facilitate the growth and promotability of their employees. Although it is difficult to estimate exactly how many universities and colleges in the U.S. offer courses on leadership, the number of these classes and programs has expanded exponentially since the 1990s (Dugan & Komives, 2007). In 2012, the

American Society of Training and Development reported that U.S. businesses spend more than $170 Billion dollars on leadership- based curriculum, with the majority of those dollars being spent on “Leadership Training” (Myatt, 2012).

Furthermore, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has included leadership as a required core

competency of AACSB accredited business schools ( Recently, leaders in management education and business schools worldwide have advanced a “Principle for Responsible Management Education”, which also designates leadership as an essential skill, emphasizing its alignment with, and embodiment of, principle values of the United Nations (Woo, 2009). Lea- dership courses are important components of all business program curricula, whether emphasis is on management, finance, ac- counting, marketing, or another functional area. Regardless of the major, graduating business students will eventually be placed in situations where their success will be dependent on their application of leadership skills and their ability to manage people and resources effectively.

Received 26 December 2016; Received in revised form 26 June 2017; Accepted 2 November 2017

Most leadership classes in Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs include leadership theories, concepts of leadership and management, and to varying degrees, student learning of some managerial skills; however, many of these classes do not provide the needed focus on the development of essential skills, such as self-reflection and self-awareness (Hobson, Strupeck, Griffin, Szostek, & Rominger, 2014). Prior research has generally supported a positive relationship between ‘knowing thyself and self-awareness’ and overall leadership success (Ashley & Reiter-Palmon, 2012;  Goleman, 2004).  Van Velsor, Taylor, and  Leslie (1993), in a review of

causes for leaders’ derailments, reported four primary areas of leadership failure: (a) interpersonal relationship problems, (b) not meeting objectives, (c) team leadership breakdowns, and (d) inability to adapt to transitions and changes. Self-awareness is related to all four of these areas, but seems particularly applicable to an individual’s ability to adapt to change. This is directly related to the issue of self and leadership gaps (standard model of scientifically developed leadership competencies and derailment factors) which are also part of possessing the necessary soft-skills for success in the workplace. In addition, self-awareness and the ability to assess oneself are basic tenets of possessing high emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1998). Furthermore, the importance of knowing oneself

through introspection is as old as ancient Greece, where the inscription on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi states: “Know Thyself’ (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) (The Oracle at Delphi, 2017).

Many graduate students, throughout their MBA programs, do not truly go through needed quantitative and qualitative assess- ments to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses in preparation for their current and desired future professional positions. (Decker, Durand, Ayadi, Whittington, & Kirkman, 2014). While MBA students often learn to conduct a strategic analysis and assess a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), they do not typically conduct this same type of introspective assessment on themselves.

The deep economic recession of 2008 and 2009 resulted in substantial increases in unemployment and job loss in the U.S. and Europe. Although the stock market has improved and unemployment is down (in the U.S.), there remains a growing sense of despair among businesses, political leaders, and policy makers that this economic crisis may have effects well into the future (Elliott, 2011; Eurostat, 2016; Financial Forecast Center, 2016). These job losses and uncertainty in the future, as well as the reality of competing in a global, technological world, has forced many individuals to seek new employment and/or reevaluate their career options. The market for jobs in this post-recession economy, especially good jobs, is increasingly becoming more competitive. Individuals with undergraduate business degrees are returning to graduate business schools to get their MBA’s, and many Millennials who are unable to find jobs after their undergraduate business education continue right away to pursue MBA degrees, without having any man- agement and/or leadership experience in their brief work histories (Muchmore, 2009). In addition, although many students in MBA programs are currently working professionals, they often do not have clear career objectives, nor clearly defined plans for their future career goals. Such plans should take into account trends and changes in the work environment and should incorporate strategies for personal leadership skill development. Knowing one’s own leadership strengths and weaknesses, as well as strategically understanding the path to follow to achieve one’s

future professional goals, are essential to not only the short-term success of graduate business students, but also to their long-term career success in business. Equally important is understanding current and future trends in the market for a particular industry of professional interest. In many cases, MBA students have not conducted an objective analysis to assess and analyze the markets and environments they are pursuing for their career position. Having such a plan may be more important now than ever given the ever- changing dynamic business environment.

The assignments described in this paper come from an MBA Leadership course in an AACSB-accredited college of business in a mid-size, public, university in the southeastern United States. For more than ten years, students from this course have completed an ‘individual strategic professional development plan’ as part of the course requirements. Facets of this plan have also been in- corporated as one of the stated assurance of learning (AOL) objectives for the college’s AACSB accreditation. This assignment goes further than the normative approach to leadership education, and it is felt that it can impact students’ personal and professional lives over a longer period of time beyond the confines of one semester or one’s degree program.

Multiple schools and institutions, both within the business field and outside, require their students and/or employees to complete self-assessments and to develop professional development plans (Baughman, Brumm, & Mickelson, 2012; Addams & Allfred, 2013; Drew & Klopper, 2014; Lopez, de Saa Perez, Rodriguez, and Almeida, 2015; and; Gerken, Beausaert, & Segers, 2016). In addition, some schools have dedicated courses where students create such plans through integrative tools, such as Eportfolio (Graves & Epstein, 2013; Kalata & Abate, 2013; Peeters & Vaidya, 2016; and; Vouchilas & George, 2016). The assignment described in this paper is consistent with these trends. However, its potential to add to the management education literature is based on four factors: 1) the comprehensiveness of the assignment; 2) its integrated and sequential approach over the progression of a semester; 3) the specific theoretical leadership focus of the assignment (it is the essential part of the MBA leadership course); and 4) its application to students’ real-world career-goals.

The key objective of this teaching manuscript is to offer faculty teaching leadership, or similar themed courses, a planned exercise and assignment that require students to assess and reflect on their current strengths and weaknesses in leadership-related skills. Through this work, students will also develop a plan for leadership skill development, identify opportunities for leadership skill as applied to relevant management practice, and consider the industry and post-degree occupation that they hope to pursue upon graduation. This paper provides an overview of the issues related to: leadership education; the concepts of increasing self-awareness and emotional intelligence; self-directed learning; and the development of a core set of vital leadership competencies, all intended to prepare students for the dynamic job market of today and the future. In addition, the assignment gives students a model for creating a strategic professional development plan that can serve as not only a guide for successful completion of the MBA program, but also for future planned career success. The paper offers a detailed overview of the assignment and its potential benefits, along with practical classroom recommendations.

  1. Review: leadership education, self-awareness and job market
  • Leadership education


The teaching of leadership has a long and varied history. Theoretical contributions in the areas of leadership, management and administration, appear in historical accounts from ancient Egypt, Babylonia and China (Saatci, 2014). For example, Egypt con- tributed to our understanding of organizational structure and development, and human resource management, in its temple building, while Babylonia addressed administration and bureaucracy during the Hammurabi reign (1792-1750 BC), producing the Code of Hammurabi (Saatci, 2014). China is most noted for its contribution to strategy in Sun Tzu’s writing on the Art of War (Cantrell, 2003; Sun Tzu, 2015). Furthermore, the Greek “Academy” was established around 386 BC by the philosopher Plato with the express purpose of developing the leadership capabilities of future statesmen (Korac-Kakabadse, Kouzmin, & Kakabadse, 2002).

Although leadership is widely taught and studied in both academia and business, with over 12,000 books being published alone on the subject in the last few years (Martin, 2002), the concept of leadership remains an evolving topic. Traditionally, understanding and learning leadership theories were the primary foci of leadership education. According to “The Handbook for Teaching Leadership” from Harvard (Snook,  Khurana, & Nohria, 2014), it wasn’t until 1985 that the first comprehensive textbook on teaching leadership – Leadership in Organizations (1985) – was developed by the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point. In the late 1980s and 1990s, students in leadership courses in business programs, started to move beyond a primary focus on learning leadership theory to also include managerial skill development: “an application of the theories, techniques, and behavioral guidelines, which if applied properly, will enhance a manager’s practice” (Bigelow, 1996, p. 306). Consistent with this focus, there has been a growing popularity of skills-based management texts. More recently, both in the literature and classroom, attention has shifted toward the integration of a variety of “real-world” active learning innovations in teaching leadership. Examples include case studies (Christensen & Carlile, 2009), service learning (Gallagher, 2011), simulations (Keys & Wolfe, 1990), client-based consulting projects (Robinson, Sherwood, & DePaolo, 2010), and student entrepreneurship ventures (Strempek, 2008).

Although we have seen an increased focus and emphasis on skill development and real world exercises to supplement theory in business school leadership courses, successful leadership requires much more than understanding these theories and learning specific skills. Specifically, how a leader performs in any given scenario varies according to the situation and is often dependent on a multitude of contextual factors, including the leader’s perception of others, themselves, and their surrounding environment (Osborn, Hunt, & Jauch, 2002).

In our MBA leadership courses, as in many graduate classes across the nation, case studies (e.g., Harvard Case Studies) are used as a tool for understanding how leaders behave in given situations. However, truly understanding the “art” of leadership requires experiential learning through enhanced analysis of the socio-cognitive, psycho-cognitive, and ethical dimensions of the individual (e.g., McHann & Frost, 2010). Therefore, for students to become better able to adopt and exemplify the behaviors of established leaders, the pedagogical approach must address not only cognitive knowledge, but also fundamental values and emotions. Although

there are multiple, innovative, educational approaches that can be used to facilitate student learning, with a subject such as lea- dership there are several challenges facing instructors. The assignments herein offer approaches that teach the knowledge and skills of leadership, but also provide emotional and perceptional impacts on students’ personal lives over a longer period of time. Within the constraints of a single semester, the pedagogical design is meant to offer students enhanced understanding of themselves and the world in which they live.

  • Self-awareness: understanding oneself


Although definitions may vary, self-awareness is an inwardly-focused evaluative process in which individuals make self/standard comparisons with the goal of better self-knowledge and improvement (Ashley & Reiter-Palmon, 2012). In Duval and Wicklund’s (1972) theory of objective self-awareness individuals periodically focus attention inward and begin a comparison process to assess themselves against a salient standard (e.g., a behavior or progress toward a goal). As previously mentioned, the concept of the importance of knowing oneself and introspection is as old as ancient Greece. You can also find various references to knowing oneself around 500-600 BC in ancient China and India (Leary & Tangney, 2003, pp. 3–14). In fact, it has been theorized that the capacity for self-reflection, to think abstractly and symbolically about oneself, was contributory to the rise of human civilization some 40,000–60,000 years ago (Leary & Buttermore, 2003). In the early 1900’s, Charles Cooley (1956), the American Sociologist, spoke of human nature, the self, and one’s role in society. His concept of the looking-glass self describes how a person grows and matures out of society’s interpersonal interactions and the per- ceptions of others. Similarly, Duval and Wicklund (1972), spoke of self-awareness and sense of self as a socially evaluative object. In this regard, individuals see themselves both from self- and other-observation perspectives. Together, these theories suggest that individuals must use a reflective process in looking at themselves from different vantage points: “how they see themselves and how others see them” (Duval & Wicklund, 1972).

Although there have been numerous scales used to measure self-awareness (Ashley & Reiter-Palmon, 2012), most build upon Fenigstein, Scheier, and Buss’ (1975) key dimensions of self-awareness, namely: “sensitivity to inner feelings; recognition of one’s positive and negative attributes; introspective behavior; tendency to picture or imagine oneself; awareness of one’s physical appearance and presentation; and concern over the appraisal of others” (p. 523). From this emerged both a private self-consciousness (e.g., I reflect about myself a lot”), and public self-consciousness (e.g., “I’m concerned about what others think of me”) (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975). Building on this work, Burnkrant and Page (1984) have suggested that one’s ‘private self-consciousness’ could better be expressed as a two-dimensional construct of self-reflection and internal state of awareness.

More recently, the need for self-reflection and self-awareness has been exemplified through the study of emotional intelligence (EI). Goleman (1998) describes EI as the capacity for a person to demonstrate the competencies that constitute self-awareness, self- management, social awareness, and social skills, at appropriate times and ways and in sufficient frequency to be effective in the situation. Goleman’s (1998) model of emotional intelligence includes five clusters containing 25 competencies. Each of the clusters (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills) are predicated upon knowing who you are and being able to assess yourself and others. Hence, more than intellectual intelligence or analytical skills, leaders need to be able to understand and recognize their own emotions, and from this they are able to respond to the needs of others and build the necessary relationships in the organization (Goleman, 1998). Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee (2001) state that although these qualities may be characteristic of the ‘soft skills’ in management and leadership, there is empirical support for a positive correlation between leaders’ emotional intelligence and their success in business. Similarly, when we think of why managers and leaders derail, the reasons often relate back to these ‘soft-skill’ traits and attributes (Center for Creative Leadership, 2016). Over the last decade we have seen a tremendous amount of literature citing the link between these soft skills and leadership effectiveness. These skills include interpersonal relationships, getting along with others, communication, taking initiative, and team- building (Hurrell, 2016). Massaro, Bardy, and Garlatti (2016) recently reviewed the management literature for the notion of ‘soft skills’ and found over 140 papers on this subject. Soft skills have been described as the most sought after skill for workers in our new economy, and also one of the most difficult to obtain (Davidson, 2016). Davidson (2016) suggests that “as the labor market tightens, completion has heated up for workers with the right mix of soft skills.” Her article further cites a recent WSJ survey of 900 executives, where 92% of these executives explained that soft skills were equally or more important than technical skills. To capsulate this thinking we can look to the Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu who said: “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom… mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power” (Popular quotes, 2016).

  • Job market and future trends


Not too long ago there was a covenant or compact between workers and their organizations: Take care of business and we’ll take care of you. You don’t have to be a star; just be faithful, obedient and only modestly competentand this will be your home as long as you want – you are family. However, now we might say there is a ‘New Covenant”: If you are productive and add value – if you keep learning and your skills are current, you’ll be okay. In fact, the organization’s half of the bargain is to keep creating opportunities for you to achieve. Your half is to keep on achieving and demonstrating value to the organization (adapted from: Bardwick, 1995). We have moved from a society based on human capital to intellectual capital. No longer can workers expect to work for the same firm for their lifetime; employees have to constantly update and their skills continually demonstrate their ability to add value to the organization (Feldman, 2010). Further accelerating this process is globalization and the fact that we are part of a global economy. Technological change and innovation have also dramatically altered workers’ roles with necessity for them to constantly update their skills and adapt in the ever present globalized, dynamic, diverse job market. The graduating MBA student is not only competing with workers in their local market, but workers all over the world.

Recent research suggests that young people today will change jobs more frequently than their parents. For example, Generation X’ers who graduated college from 1986 to 1990 averaged two job changes in their first 10 years’ post-graduation. Conversely, Millennials will change jobs at least 4 times before the decade post-graduation (Long, 2016). Where only a few years ago it was estimated that the typical worker would have seven careers in a lifetime, it is now predicted that this number will be closer to twenty (Bialik, 2010). According to Davos, events such as economic downturns and increases in automation (e.g., artificial intelligence, robots, etc.) will result in the net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years in fifteen leading countries (these countries account for approximately 65% of total workforce). The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts a total loss of 7.1 million jobs from 2015 to 2020 as a result of technology and disruptions in the economy (Worstall, 2016).

Graduating MBA students will be subject to business environments characterized by these disruptions in the economy, the advent of new automation, continuous and improving technologies, globalization, and shifting patterns in employment migration. These trends will challenge business graduates worldwide to constantly assess and reevaluate the current job market and their relevant skill set. As such, today’s MBA graduates will have to be environmentally aware, nimble, and strategic in the way they approach the future, and they must be prepared and willing to constantly update their professional career plans.

  1. The assignment

“The Challenge of Leadership” is a core MBA course that is delivered both in the traditional classroom and online as a distance learning class. In both platforms, the course is predominantly given over the typical 16-week semester period, and is taken at the beginning of the MBA program of study. The course is also multi-disciplinary and is taken by graduate students across multiple majors after they have completed foundation and core courses in their respective programs (e.g. Master’s in Public Administration, Master’s in Computer Information Systems, Doctorate in Educational Leadership, etc.). The focus of “Challenge of Leadership” is to teach students the fundamental theories, practices and skills of leadership, as well as providing cases and material that give students the opportunity to learn from other leaders’ experiences. A key emphasis of the course is on guiding students’ development of specific skills related to leading and managing people. To teach these fundamentals, over the years we have used a number of ‘skills based’ leadership texts: Gary Yukl’s “Leadership in Organizations”, Peter Northhouse’s “Leadership: Theory and Practice”, Robert Lussier’s book: “Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development”, and David Whetten and Kim Cameron’s book: “Developing Management Skills”. We also have frequently assigned a supplemental leadership book on business practices to accompany the foundational leadership text such as: Jim Collins, “Good to Great,” Warren Bennis, “Leading for a Lifetime,” etc. in order to introduce additional leadership thoughts and perspectives.

Although the course is composed of several assignments, including case studies and leadership exercises, the primary assignment for the course is the ‘individual strategic professional development plan’. The weighted value of the assignment (depending on the instructor and the other assignments given in the class) has ranged from 50% to 70% of the overall weighted grade for the class. Although, as previously noted, several different skills-based texts have been used to teach the class, all classes, regardless of text used, include the self-assessment/professional development assignment.

  • Assignment overview


The individual strategic professional development plan assignment requires students to complete: a) industry analysis and or- ganizational role assessment; b) individual self-assessments and skill practice; and c) strategic plan for continued self-improvement and career management. The assignment can serve as a 3-5 year professional development plan for students’ personal and profes- sional development. The three distinct sections of the assignment are generally completed throughout the semester with opportu- nities for students to turn in incremental components for developmental feedback before final submission, or as three separate assignments culminating in one final report.

Section one, the industry analysis and organizational role assessment includes an analysis and description of the student’s current or desired organization and associated roles within the organization. This section of the assignment is worked on during the first third of the semester. Section two contains ‘personal self-assessments’, which focus on key leadership skill-area assessment and develop- ment, and is completed during the second third of the semester. Finally, section three is the student’s strategic plan for self-im- provement and is completed just before the final class. All of the three sections require students to turn in a final completed report using APA format.

Throughout the semester we emphasize to the students the nature and intent of the assignment: “this assignment is highly personal and meaningful for your life and career goals. In addition, we continually reinforce that the strategic professional development plan is intended to be a personal plan or guide for their own self-development both throughout the semester and well beyond. Throughout the class, we tell students (through previous students’ testimonials) how the ability to present an integrated analysis of 1) one’s selected industry, 2) self-assessments of leadership and management skills, and 3) a strategic plan for personal and professional development, can – as a set – be one of the most valuable and useful outcomes of a student’s graduate education.

One week prior to the last class of the semester, the student turn in their completed strategic professional development plan which contains all three sections of the assignment. At the final class, each student makes a brief presentation to their classmates (we have used both formal and informal presentation formats) in which they provide an overview of their professional plan, discuss changes in their industry based on their analysis, their self-assessment of their leadership skill strengths and weaknesses, and their strategic plan for future development and career success. Students also share their self-reflections on the assignment and what they have learned through this experience. In our on-line classes, this final presentation is historically done via a discussion forum set up in our Course Management System. We have also required that online students upload a narrated power point presentation to the discussion forum. Below are more detailed descriptions of the assignments.

  • Section one: industry assessment

The industry assessment consists of an introductory examination of the student’s current job and/or career plan and an in-depth analysis of the industry, company and position that they are looking to go into in the future. Fig. 1 shows the industry assessment model, highlighting the initial broad analysis, moving toward a specific examination of the desired job position. This figure is used in class as a means to illustrate the required foci.

  • Introduction. The assignment begins with a short introduction to the student’s current position, the industry they are currently employed in and their general career goals and direction they wish to Students provide detailed information related to the position, roles, current duties and responsibilities (i.e., a job description).
  • Industry analysis. For the industry assessment, students are required to introduce the industry and the changes occurring in this specific business environment. The situational assessment of the student’s chosen industry typically takes into account important historical, financial, and situational factors. The process requires students to initially examine the industry broadly, and then narrow their focus (as much as possible) to the specific occupation/job they are looking to pursue in the future (1–5 years upon graduation). The specific steps or recommendations for this assignment include:
  1. The Industry. Students begin with a broad review of the industry, including the historical development of the industry, as well as, the major competitors in the market (national databases and industry databases are considered in this review). This broad review looks at the industry but also includes an external review of the broader environment, including forecasted growth in the field, potential changes and opportunities, and future
  2. Situational Analysis. Following the broad industry review, the students are then asked to narrow their review to focus on a targeted examination of the specific company that they currently work for and/or desire to work for in the future. As the students start to narrow down the review to the specific company they are looking at, students are asked to include, where feasible, the financial

Fig. 1. Industry assessment model.

statements and other supporting data on the selected company. Items such as company annual reports and SEC filings are en- couraged to be considered in this review. For the situational analysis, students are also asked to conduct an external and internal environmental SWOT analysis. The external environment analysis includes the company’s industry structure, industry change drivers, value chain, the positioning and strategies of competitors, etc. The internal analysis might include the company’s strategy, strategic intent, structure, culture, and leadership. With both the industry and company review, the students will use outside sources from common library databases, such as, Dunn and Bradstreet’s Industry Norms, Value Line Investment Survey, Standard and Poor’s Industry Surveys, and Standard and Poor’s Research Insight. In addition, students are asked to review articles from major news sources, such as, Fortune, Business Week, and The Wall Street Journal, on both their selected company and its primary competitors. In regard to changes in the company and industry, students are asked to describe how these changes will impact the roles of senior leaders, and affect opportunities within the industry and for the targeted company. The identified changes must be grounded in both students’ own impressions of the industry and those expressed through available public information. It is felt that this format provides the students with valuable opportunities to build their own arguments for explaining the changes taking place in their industry with strong grounding on what others are saying through empirical evidence (research), professional communication, and public forums.

  1. Job/position analysis. Students are then asked to progressively narrow their analysis even further, all the way to the specific

position they see themselves working at in the future. In pursuit of better understanding this position, its requirements and responsibilities, the student will conduct an in-depth interview with a person or persons (students are encouraged but not required to conduct multiple interviews) in this industry who are current jobholders for this position. Students are provided detailed guidelines and sample interview questions, which they are instructed to customize to their own needs, and which best serve to help the student best understand the scope of the position. The interview is designed to assess a typical work day for the relevant position, and identify important problem-solving activities, required leadership skills, and expectations for the job. Students are encouraged to spend time shadowing their interviewee, if possible, and are encouraged to establish an on-going mentoring relationship. Appendix 1 provides the in-depth interview assignment instructions. The interview assignment describes the in- terview/shadowing process and provides a rich set of interview questions that the student will ask the manager/leader inter- viewee. In addition, the interviewee is asked to rate and describe a list of key leadership/managerial skills and behaviors.

  • Section two: self-development assessments and skill practice

This section of the strategic professional development plan is an assessment and analysis of a series of personal leadership oriented skill assessments that students complete throughout the semester. Using the Whetten and Cameron, Developing Management Skills text (Whetten & Cameron, 2016) as an example, section two follows the foundations of experimental learning theory and self-directed learning (Kolb, 1984;; Knowles, 1975). Experimental learning theory draws on the prominent works of early scholars of human learning and development, such as John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, William James, Carl Jung, Paulo Freire, Carl Rogers and others who focused on the art of “learning from experience.” The thinking behind the use of “self-directive learning” is that it can equip the students with the skills to become life-long learners. Therefore, they can learn management and leadership skills, practice these skills, and then be able to apply these skill-sets independently with continual development. Section two of the strategic pro- fessional development plan consists of three parts:

  1. Skill Assessment Surveys. This part of the assignment incorporates self-assessment tests of students’ current levels of skill devel- For each leadership skill area, students complete a series of self-assessments that measure current competency in a number of specific skill areas. A majority of the skills-based assessment comes from one of the assigned skill-based textbooks for the course (e.g., Lussier & Achua, 2013; Northouse, 2016; Whetten & Cameron, 2016). Additional assessments are also drawn from a variety of independent sources. For example, students in a given semester could be given any number of surveys and assessment, frequently taken from free internet sources on general topics such as: emotional intelligence (Wong & Law, 2002), empathy (Davis, 1980), feedback seeking (Tuckey, Brewer, & Williamson, 2002), generalized self-efficacy (Chen, Gully, & Eden, 2001) locus of control (Rotter, 1966), and self-monitoring (Snyder, 1974). In addition, some form of a Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is employed. Generally, students will be given a web based version of the MBTI, such as the MBTI Keirsey ( or Jung Typology ( Throughout the semester, students are encouraged to conduct reflective reviews on all of their assessment results and apply them to their own leadership development plans. While a complete description of all assessments are beyond the scope of this paper, the following example illustrates the type of self- reflective interpretation and analysis we expect from students:

Student’s Response to Communicating Supportively, Assessment Instrument, (See Whetten & Cameron, 2016):

“I scored in the second quartile (95 out of 120). This score reflects what I have already known about myself … that I need to work on my communication skills! I know that to be a successful manager someday I will need to have superior communication skills. The importance of this skill area was recently heightened for me when I conducted the managerial interview for this class. The manager I interviewed felt strongly that communication skills were the most important skill for her success. Upon more detailed analysis I see that I am in need of skill improvement in both knowledge of coaching and counseling and providing effective negative feedback.

  1. Skill Learning. Directly following the completion of these self-assessments, students proceed through instructor led skill learning material and then conduct a series of skill learning activities that afford needed opportunities to practice and develop their new skill learning to increase their competency and confi For example, students are asked to use the STAR technique (e.g., Situation, Task, Actions taken, Results achieved) to describe examples when they applied the leadership skill to their work and/or personal lives and then provide an assessment outcome and reflection on the lessons learned.
  2. Comprehensive Summary. The third part of the personal assessment requires students to summarize their findings from the self- assessments, new skill learning and skill development activities in relation to what they had previously thought about themselves and their work situations and how they will behave differently as a result of this new learning and skill practice. For example, students might consider their perceived strengths and weaknesses in relation to a relevant skill They may also develop important learning objectives based on their performance across the different self-assessments, skill learning content and practice activities; and, they may consider how this would apply to future professional and personal situations. For many of the skill self- assessment surveys utilized in the course, students may complete either paper based or web based versions. Most assessments provide students with a report of their assessment results (reported as quartile results) that indicate how the student ranks based on normative values of a large sample of MBA students who have previously taken the assessment.

Fig. 2 shows a list of the skill assessments used in this section of the strategic professional development plan, as organized from the text and the class.

  • Section three: strategic plan for continuous improvement

Strategic planning is an essential managerial concept that specifies where the organization is headed in terms of short term and long terms goals, and how leadership intends to achieve those goals (Thompson, Peteraf, Gamble, & Strickland, 2015). Part Three of the strategic professional development plan integrates and applies this key business concept into a personalized strategic plan for each student. Specifically, in the final section of the assignment, students create their own strategic plan for their professional development and continuous improvement. This final section basically ‘mimics’ the process followed by any business entity in developing a strategic plan. Students begin with the writing of their own personal mission statement and then create targeted strategic goals that they hope to achieve in three to five years. These long-term goals are followed by specific shorter term goals that include operational plans (or steps) for achievement.

Specifically, the final section of the strategic professional development plan includes:

  1. Self-Re This section requires students to provide a general overall reflection of their professional career and their lea- dership skill development, prior to their enrollment in the course. This reflection should assess the degree to which their current position is a “good fit” for their desired career path, and on how satisfied they are that their skill competencies (strengths and weaknesses) have led to their overall career progress to date.
  1. Life Mission. A personal life mission explicates one’s purpose and reason for existence. In this section, we encourage students to think more broadly and deeply than their professional lives, and to clarify and prioritize their own personal core For example, although one may have excelled in his/her career as an accountant and has achieved significant promotions within his/ her firm, the life mission can highlight values that may (or may not) be consistent with this career progress; perhaps spending time with family is the most important core value for this individual. This value identification can elucidate for students whether or not their professional careers have been (or appear to be) congruent with their personal ambitions.

Fig. 2. Skills assessment inventories*

*Sample of surveys and assessments taken from text used and other online sources.

  1. Strategic Goals. In this stage, the development of specific goals help students focus on where they would like to be in three to five These action objectives include both work/career and personal goals. We encourage students to follow the rule of six. By focusing on six key strategic goals, students are more likely to be focused and motivated for implementing future action. Fewer than six often leads to unrealized potential achievements and more than six, we have found, often leads to a decrease in commitment and a sense of being overwhelmed.
  2. Implementation Plans. We emphasize this area as the key to the entire strategic professional development plan. Students must, in detailed fashion, outline the specific developmental plans that they will follow to achieve of each of their long-term goals. Each of these developmental plans must include:
    1. Self-evaluation, which is based on the student’s self-perceived strengths and weaknesses gleamed from the skill assessments. In this section, students clarify what they learned about themselves from the self-assessments, and how the assessments led to a better understanding of the students’ potential fit for their desired
    2. Goals in this area are supplemented with a “gap analysis”, whereby students identify their current skills, and needed skills, that are required for successful achievement of their desired career position.
  • Detailed plans for achieving the goals, including incremental
  1. Perceived rewards and benefits for achieving each
  1. Dealing with Uncertainty and Change. This part of the strategic plan for continuous improvement focuses on how students will respond to changes in their industry with specific foci on potential environmental trends and uncertainties, how these trends and uncertainties may impact the profession and their specific organization, and finally how they will make adjustments to these trends and uncertainties. In essence, this section requires that students engage is some base-level scenario planning to modify their personal strategies for such potential contingencies.

In summary, the strategic plan for continuous improvement is a realistic culmination of the preceding two sections of the strategic professional development plan, linking and reflecting on the findings in the student’s industry analysis, as well as the identified strengths and weaknesses based upon the student’s personal skill self-assessments. In essence, the final section reflects the profes- sional development “action plan” for the student in the achievement of their career and personal goals and clarifies the path they will follow to achieve them over the next 3-5 years.

  1. Use in the classroom

The described assignment for the MBA student, from the onset, is daunting and challenging. Students are faced with a com- prehensive exercise that requires extensive research into their industry (both from a macro and micro level), extensive self-evaluation and reflection, as well as, both field and classroom work, culminating in a paper that spans anywhere from 60-120 pages. Students in post-class reviews have commented on the amount of work and time that have gone into the assignment. In addition, in post class reviews many of the MBA students acknowledged that they have never critically conducted an industry/market assessment focused on the industry in which they work or want to work, nor have they critically assessed their own leadership skills, or developed detailed plans for their long term personal and professional success. However, they frequently voiced in these post-class reviews that this has been one of the most meaningful assignments that they have had in both graduate and undergraduate school. In fact, all the authors have been contacted at one time or the other by graduating students who have “thanked them” for the assignment and the opportunity to engage in self-reflection and analysis. This is illustrated by the following past student comments:

  • Student commented


The assignments and self-assessments from this class forced me to examine myself and my thought process in ways that I have never been asked to do before. It really opened my eyes to some aspects of myself that I may have known but never fully acknowledged”.

  • Alumni comment


The personal self-assessments and the strategic plan both gave me the condence and skills needed to identify the right position for me; I owe much of my current career and leadership success to this class!

Students have also regularly updated several of the faculty on how their plans are being realized in the job market and in their personal lives.

  • Alumni comment


Just wanted to let you know that thanks to my Strategic Professional Development Plan I was able to obtain my dream job! This would not have been possible without your class where I had the opportunity to articulate my desired job and company through the occupational assessment report, interview a job incumbent, and work on developing those skills that my employer was looking for through the selection process.

Over the years, both the scope and the delivery of the assignment have varied and changed. The assignment has also moved from solely being given to MBA students in a classroom setting, to being assigned in our online MBA distance learning classes, as well as being given to Executive MBA (EMBA) students. Across different instructors, there has been a good deal of variation in terms of how the assignment has been scheduled throughout the semester and in terms of both class activities and due dates.

For example, a faculty member may prefer to give the assignment in three separate individual parts over a semester. In this format, the industry assessment would be due on a specific date during the first third of the semester, the personal assessment section would be due about two thirds through the semester, and the final section would be due at the end of the semester. The advantage of administering the assignment over three distinct time periods is that it requires (and motivates) students to work on the assignment throughout the semester and also allows the instructor more time and structure to provide guided feedback for each part of the assignment. The potential drawback of this approach is that it could affect (unfavorably) the continuity of the final product. With three separate assignments, achieving overall integration and conceptual linkage across the exercise may be more difficult.

Some faculty may prefer to give students the entire semester to complete the whole assignment. The biggest drawback of this approach is that some (if not many) students will wait until the last minute to complete the assignment, and thus turn in a less than quality product. A potential solution, in this case, is to use a modified combination of both methods. For example, the instructor could allow students to turn in the full assignment at the end of the semester, but also require ‘draft sections’ to be completed and turned in during select periods of the semester. This would provide a mechanism for monitoring students’ progress in terms of both quality and the amount of work being done.

Whichever approach is taken, faculty should assess and monitor students’ motivation to work toward completion of each section, offer ample opportunities for support and feedback, and communicate regularly to students the importance of the overall assignment (and its separate components).

As noted earlier, we have given a modified version of the assignment in our EMBA class. Due to the greater professional ex- perience and the senior nature of the students in our executive programs we have EMBA students conduct a complete analysis of the leadership roles that they occupy in their current organization (duties, roles, responsibilities, etc.). We have found this very helpful for these more experienced EMBA students. These individuals often operate in a very turbulent and complex business environment. Therefore, they are required to deal with sometimes wicked, unstructured and non-programmed problems; thus, we have found that the inclusion of a “role assessment” is very helpful in assisting the senior managers to identify and list the requisite skills that are needed to respond to these unforeseen problems, in a dynamic and ever-changing environment. For EMBAs, a significant outcome of the “role analysis” in conjunction with the executives’ “self-assessment” has resulted in a realization that, in many cases, individuals lack the requisite cognitive complexity and emotional maturity to perform successfully in their current roles.

  1. Summary and conclusion Most graduate students, and perhaps many working professionals, often do not allocate time for needed self-reflection and in- trospection on their strengths and weaknesses as managers and leaders in organizations; nor do they devote full consideration of where and how they will achieve their personal and career goals. This lack of self-reflection among students in graduate programs has been a concern, and has prompted scholars to address the way business schools are educating future leaders. For example, Pfeffer and Fong (2002), Mintzberg (2005), and Bennis and O’Toole (2005) have voiced that business schools “are on the wrong track”. Mintzberg (2005), in particular, caused the biggest disruption with his publication: “Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development.” This book provides a harsh critique of business schools in the U.S., stating that they are focusing on the wrong people and the wrong techniques in educating managers and they, the business schools, need to get back to bringing real life experiences into the classroom. Earlier, Mintzberg (2005) gave a similar critique of management education when he said: “Our management schools have done an admirable job of training the organization’s specialists—management sci- entists, marketing researchers, accountants, and organizational development specialists, but for the most part they have not trained managers” (p. 61). Not long after these critiques, AACSB suggested that business education should cover skills and competencies (AACSB, 2015). Hence, many business schools heard what Mintzberg and others said and started to focus on the learning outcomes linked to management skills and competencies. However, key to the success of managing and leading others is understanding yourself; how can you expect to manage and understand others if you don’t understand yourself? Nevertheless, business schools have been slow to adopt practices that force students to not only critically assess case studies and business problems, but to also assess themselves; especially in the context of their inherent skills and abilities. The presented individual strategic professional development plan assignment for our MBA leadership class forces students to not only reflect but to self-analyze and to take control of their development and the achievement of their future goals. The foundation of this assignment uses the pedagogical method of “self-directed learning.” As Whetten and Cameron (2016) point out: this type of learning is primarily learner directed, rather than instructor directed. Thus, one of the key to successful leadership is the ability to self-manage oneself!

The self-assessment section (section II) helps MBA students, as a future managers and leaders, identify gaps in their management/ leadership skills and learn the value and need for self-development. Short term or direct benefits of the strategic professional development plan will help students with their management/leadership skill development. It will also aid them in better understanding their overall strengths and weaknesses, as well as their behavior in leadership situations. The longer-term benefits of the assignment (industry analysis, battery of self-assessments, skill learning activities, and strategic plan for continuous improvement) will help students determine their skill gaps in terms of the fit between their competencies and their current position, as well as an assessment of how prepared they are to deal with the changes taking place in their job and industry. Ultimately the knowledge gained from the plan will help students understand the management/leadership skills necessary in their future professional positions and industry and provide them with the means to continually develop and grow as leaders. Considering that the typical MBA student can anticipate a career of changing jobs due to disruptions in the job market and technological advancement, the ability to strategically plan and map one’s future career is an essential tool and asset. From a scientific perspective, there are limitations to our assignment. First, many of the assessments that are used in section two are simple, easy to administer surveys that have largely not been validated (we are using free web version and not original instruments). Second, many of our MBA students who have taken this course are not working in their chosen field and in fact, many have not worked in a position of authority. As such, they may lack a certain sense of maturity and experience. Third, many of the graduate students at our university come from the local surrounding areas. In this sense, they may not be representative of MBAs or EMBAs elsewhere. It is likely that in their future careers, our graduates will have more experience with individuals who come from a variety of national and international locations.

Further, the results of this assignment have mainly been assessed through qualitative feedback. Going forward, more robust assessment of the assignment would be valuable. Recently, the course instructors have piloted a supplemental survey to evaluate the students’ perceptions and provide a more objective evaluation of the assignment. This survey included a number of Likert-type questions asking the students their opinion of the Individual Strategic Professional Development Plan assignment. Below are examples of three key questions that the supplemental survey asked in regard to the assignment:

  • I learned a great deal about myself through this exercise;
  • I feel that the individual evaluation was a beneficial assignment; and
  • I feel that personal self-assessment should be an integral part of coursework for all new MBA

Early findings are promising with survey items scores between 4.3 and 5.0 for the scaled questions. However, the current sample is too small to present. Going forward the use of supplemental survey assessments on the overall assignment should provide greater objective feedback on the assignment. Following graduates and gaining their feedback one – five years after graduation would provide even more useful data. However, even taking these limitations into account, the assignment is extremely beneficial for both MBA instructors and, most importantly, for the MBA students. In our ever-changing market, our future leaders (many of these same MBAs) will need to reinvent themselves. In order to do this, they first must understand who they are and have a plan on how to get there.

As noted earlier many other universities, both within and outside of business, have instituted courses and/or assignments with a focus on professional development. Some may have the students doing a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threat) analysis such as what Addams and Allfred (2013) did in having students do a self-SWOT that could be used for student’s career applications, while others have included “ePortofio (Graves & Epstein, 2013; Kalata & Abate, 2013; Peeters & Vaidya,  2016; and; Vouchilas & George, 2016) into the students learning experience. Our assignment is different in that it provides a comprehensive, step-by-step, integrated approach that begins with a broad to narrow industry analysis, followed by skill assessment which feeds into a personalized professional development plans. The advantages to this approach is it is formulistic and can be repeated periodically by students as they move from student to employees in their professional career in our dynamic global market. The current market requires our graduate students to reflect on who they are and where they hope to be in the future. In addition, the old axiom “know thyself” could not be more appropriate for students in today’s highly competitive global economy. Nothing could be more valuable to a student studying management and hoping to be a future leader than to have a solid understanding and grasp of their strengths and weaknesses and to understand the requisite skills needed for performing successfully in leadership “roles”; roles that require both cognitive and emotional complexity (Aslam, Ilyas, Imran, & Ur Rahman, 2016).

In closing, the individual strategic professional development plan assignment is an applied exercise that MBA students or M.S. students in management can use as not only a guide as they move through their graduate business program, but as a plan to follow as they begin and grow their careers, now and in the future.

Appendix 1.  Interview/shadowing assignment

As part of the Industry assessment you will develop an in-depth picture of the desired targeted job and the leadership related skills required to perform that job successfully by interviewing a current job incumbent. The assignment is to conduct at least one interview and you are encouraged to conduct multiple interviews as part of this assignment. Interviewing more than one manager provides the opportunity to see consistency across managers in skill areas of importance, as well as, identify contextual differences requiring situationally specific skill competencies. The person(s) interviewed must be employed full-time in an industry/organization/pro- fession that is the focus of your industry analysis. In addition, if possible, you are encouraged to shadow the individual for a day, or a part of a day, so you can observe and learn from their behavior and interactions.

You may use the questions stated below and in addition, you are strongly encouraged to come up with your own specific questions that will facilitate your own personal learning.

PLEASE NOTE: YOU SHOULD ASK PROBING AND FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS! Just asking the listed questions in the order listed and taking whatever answers you get no matter how brief defeats the purpose of this assignment. Try to flesh out the responses to a level that allows you to come away from the interview with some tangible insights that will facilitate your personal growth and future success. The need to ask follow-up questions is especially true for question 15.

A good interview does not rigidly adhere to the order of questions. Rather it flows naturally as part of a conversational dialogue. Your job is to steer the conversation so that by the end you have hit upon all of the areas of focus as pre-determined by you prior to the interview. Be a good listener! Make eye contact, nod your head a lot, and make verbal utterances such as uh huh, I see, oh that’s interesting, etc. Paraphrase back to you interviewee whenever possible to make sure that the message received was what was intended (So you believe that …, So what your saying is…., etc.). TAKE NOTES during the interview. It is the only way for you to remember what is said. Conclude with expressed appreciation and thank them for taking the time to share their knowledge and experiences with you. Please treat these interviews as confidential! The names of the individuals interviewed do not matter – only their opinions, perceptions, and behaviors. Assure the managers that no one will be able to identify them from their responses and that the information given is for your own personal development. As an activity as part of a college course, most people are very generous with their time and are willing to help. This is true even if you contact someone you do not have a previous relationship with. Remember, most people like to talk about themselves yet are rarely asked about the keys to their success. Most will feel honored that you want to learn from them. Most interviews should last between 30 – 60+ minutes.

1 Please describe a typical day at work. 2 Describe yourself to me.

3 What education and training have you received? How has it enabled you to be a better manager? 4 What are the most critical problems you face as a manager?

5 What are your greatest strengths as a successful manager? 6 Tell me a time when you felt most successful and why.

7 What are the most critical skills needed to be a successful manager in your line of work? 8 How do you deal with difficult employees?

9 What are the major reasons managers fail in positions like yours? 10 What are your three highest priorities in your work life?

  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • What do you want to achieve in the next five years? 13 What legacy do you want to leave?
  • If you had to train someone to replace you in your current job, what key skills and abilities would you focus on?
  • On a scale of 1 (very rarely) to 5 (constantly), have interviewee rate the extent to which they use the following leadership/ managerial skills or behaviors during you workday? Ask them to please provide an example where possible. Also ask why did they give this rating?

Rating                                                          Item

Managing personal stress Orchestrating Change Managing Time Delegating

Facilitating Group Decision-Making Goal Setting

Decision-Making Identifying Problems Disciplining Others Verbal Communications Interviewing Performance Evaluation Empathizing

Motivating Others Team Building Managing Conflict Problem Solving

Achieving Self-Awareness Conducting Meetings Gaining and Using Power Negotiating



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