How the Duke MBA Makes Leaders - Communication

I’ll start off with a quote from another blog post I’ve written: “not all great communicators are great leaders, but all great leaders are great communicators.” Being able to clearly articulate what’s on your mind is necessary for – in the most simple of words – getting people to agree to do things. But how does the Duke MBA prepare its future leaders for communication in the business world, and what is it looking for in its applicants? 

For this post, I’ve taken a more structured approach and highlight what I consider the way communication is taught in the Duke MBA, and finally wrapping up some things to consider when applying.

This is the second post in my new blog series, How the Duke MBA Makes Leaders.

Clear business thinking – the first step

Having a logical thinking process is important – if you can’t figure out what’s going on, then it’s going to be impossible to persuade others. The Duke MBA prepares students for this with its general management-focused courses. The business and industry-specific knowledge taught in lectures provide the foundation, whereas homework and team projects train your brain to think and ask the right questions to solve business issues.

This may be common sense for folks who were in business roles prior to business school, but I noticed a huge difference in myself since I came from a non-traditional background. I’ll be the first to admit that my class grades could be better, but learning the business concepts and even just the language from the ground up has made a big impact in my ability to think about business issues. The ability to dissect these business issues into parts and put them back together in your mind is something you should expect to get out of the Duke MBA. This serves as the foundation for any communication after school.

The skill of persuasion – a strong emphasis in the Duke MBA program

Now that you have the logic down, the next step is packaging it into something that is effective in motivating and persuading others. The Duke MBA offers abundant opportunity to do this. The highly popular Management Communication courses really take this to heart and focus on training students in the art of persuasion. In the end, all business presentations are really for persuasion.

From effective slide design to actual speaking and body language practice, the Management Communication courses are the starting point for communication training at Fuqua. There are two required courses in the first that everyone has to take (sorry, no exemptions), and there are two more electives for interested second year MBA students.

This is something that Fuqua really takes pride in – every student you ask will probably tell you that Management Communication is among their most favorite – or at least most useful – classes they’ve taken. The faculty who teach these courses are very experienced and are extremely effective in giving tailored constructive feedback. Many students will attest that the feedback they received during Fuqua’s communication courses made a real difference for their MBA internship presentations.

Overcoming personality barriers – something less talked about but equally important to communication

If you’re an introvert, it can be hard to push yourself to make your voice heard. At least that was the way it was for me. I received constructive feedback during my internship and one of my biggest goals in my second year was to be better a better contributor during meetings and discussions. It’s very important to be assertive enough so that you have a voice in the room. This is particularly important during business meetings, and introverts need to take the extra step to overcome internal barriers.

What I realized ultimately was that team meetings and classroom discussions were the perfect training ground for this. I was always nervous before contributing in class because of the fear of being wrong. I ultimately realized that this mindset was robbing myself of the opportunity to develop my communication skills and I forced myself to change it. It is the same with team meetings – I started being more assertive in guiding the team discussions and offering my contribution. And you know what? Half the time I was wrong, but I learned something and no harm was done. The other half my team really appreciated what I had contributed and that I helped move the meeting forward.

Beyond the classroom, there are abundant opportunities for students to practice their communication and persuasion skills. From student club initiatives to other extracurricular activities such as Program 4Entrepreneurs to Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum, hands-on training is made available for those that want it. I won’t go into the details on what each program is, as I’ve written about them here. The point is that – because Fuqua is so student-driven – there are real impactful opportunities out there, and thus really good practice for meaningfully improving a student’s communication skills.

Effective communication – are you ready for the Duke MBA?

Fuqua evaluates its student candidates’ communication skills in two ways – written skills with the essays and spoken skills with the interview. Since both these things are essentially about you (and who would know you better than yourself), it is expected that you communicate your background and your MBA goals clearly. However, that’s not to say that you need to be perfect. Rather, it’s the fact that you know where you are and recognize where you want to be and how the MBA program will help get you there.

The MBA communication courses are not meant to prepare you for your future TED talk – they are meant to help you with practical communication skills that impact your everyday life and work. If you can reflect on your own developmental needs and recognize how the Duke MBA can help, then you are off to a great start.


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