How a Graduate Education Can Improve Your Leadership Skills

Grad School Success Industry Advice Business Leadership

Fifty-eight percent of all U.S. companies say their number one strategic priority is closing their current leadership skill gaps. In 2017, these companies spent $31 billion on leadership programs to achieve just that. What’s more, many companies plan to increase their total spending on leadership development initiatives in the next few years—now treating professional development as an important component of their business strategy.

With strong leadership in such high demand, improving your leadership skills can give you a competitive advantage. Because contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be in a C-level role to be considered a leader. Strong leaders exist, and are highly valued, at every level of business to inspire, engage, and influence their colleagues and stakeholders.

Why are Leadership Skills So Important?

Recent studies have found leadership quality to be a significant determinant of an organization’s success, which explains companies’ large investments in leadership-focused initiatives. Organizations with strong leaders experience better overall organizational performance, including high levels of customer satisfaction, organizational productivity, financial gains, and product quality. Effective leadership also has a positive impact on employee retention, performance, engagement, and morale.

Despite the criticality of quality leadership, 84 percent of organizations predict that they will experience a shortage of skilled leaders in the next five years. A graduate education can help you improve your leadership skills and help meet the demand.

What Makes an Effective Leader?

There is no blueprint for being a successful leader; there are many leadership styles and philosophies to choose from. There are, however, certain qualities that all exemplary leaders share that enable them to inspire, motivate, and unify others to achieve a shared vision. Successful leaders are:

  • Exceptionally business-savvy
  • Fearless decision makers
  • Effective communicators
  • Highly collaborative
  • Goal setters
  • Great relationship builders
  • Culturally aware
  • Responsive to change

If you’re feeling less than confident in your current abilities in these areas, don’t fret. Fortunately, these skills can be learned and refined over time. According to a study by Harvard University, 85 percent of executives who participated in leadership development programs—including classroom learning, online training, one-on-one mentoring, and job shadowing—were able to improve their leadership effectiveness dramatically in just three years.

There are many ways to acquire and develop these skills to advance your career and stay in demand in the marketplace. A graduate education is a reliable way to improve your leadership skills to help you confidently face the rigors of working in challenging business environments.

How Will Graduate Studies Improve My Leadership Skills?

Twenty-seven percent of companies report that they now target advanced degree holders for roles that used to require four-year degrees, in part due to the often superior leadership abilities among those with an advanced education. Here are some of the ways that earning a master’s degree can improve your leadership skills to help you grow in your career:

Develop Business Acumen

Graduate coursework is designed to sharpen critical thinking and analytical skills. You’ll be required to craft compelling arguments, defend them against criticism, and justify your decisions with data. You’ll address complex, multi-faceted case studies with solutions that require a thorough situational analysis and strategic thinking. In the real world, leaders are faced with similar challenges that require the ability to consider the needs of many diverse stakeholders in their decision making.

Improve Goal-Setting

Achieving an advanced degree is no easy feat. Completing graduate studies exhibits your ability to set goals and see them through to execution. Balancing graduate coursework with your professional and personal life requires initiative, time management, and superior organizational ability. Given the self-directed nature of graduate work, you’ll learn to set goals, organize, learn, and complete objectives with little direction—which, according to global leaders, is the second most important competency for leaders.

Become a More Effective Communicator

In an age of constant and rapid change, effective communication skills are critical. According to a survey by Harvard Business Review, clear communication of expectations is among the top three skills required for quality leadership. In graduate school, you’ll have the chance to improve your communication abilities by constructing written arguments and participating in classroom discussion. As a leader, you’ll use these skills to deliver compelling communication to motivate teams, respond to problems, engage employees, and effectively relay your strategic vision.

Gain a Global Perspective

In graduate school, you’ll meet and work with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Surrounding yourself with diverse minds and opinions will give you a broader perspective and increase your cross-cultural competency and awareness. This exposure will give you the ability to learn from others more efficiently, improve inter-cultural communication, and enable you to better lead across countries and cultures—currently one of the leadership skills companies say they struggle with most.

Challenge Your Views

Graduate courses are designed to push you out of your comfort zone, encourage flexibility, and teach you how to respond favorably and strategically to change. By learning to step aside from preconceived beliefs, consider the perspectives of others, and challenge their current problem-solving methods, graduate students learn to lead more inclusively. Successful leaders are comfortable challenging their own views in order to make the best and most objective decisions.

Solve Real-World Problems with Industry Leaders

In grad school, you’ll learn from key players in your industry, who utilize real-world experience to help you combine cutting-edge research with practice. These individuals teach core industry competencies while also imparting advice on how to be a more effective leader in real-world environments. Through hands-on, experiential learning opportunities offered at some graduate programs, you’ll develop problem-solving skills and gain exposure to new business models and state-of-the-art innovations to help you lead creatively.

Become a Teamwork Expert

In graduate school, you’ll participate in many collaborative projects and breakout sessions during classes that encourage cooperation to solve complex problems. These environments help embody the collective nature of leadership and illustrate the importance of failing and succeeding together. These collaborative projects can teach you lasting lessons about how to build and manage teams, by noting strengths, weaknesses, and personality dynamics. You’ll learn to listen to the views of others, experience different work ethics, and delegate effectively. As a leader in the real world, you’ll be able to utilize these skills to inspire a shared vision and enable others to act.

Leadership skills are in high demand, and a graduate education can help you get there. To improve your skills, it helps to have sustained practice in a real-world environment. As a busy professional, balancing learning and work can be a challenge. But through rigorous curricula and hands-on experience, graduate school enables you to gain and improve your leadership skills without taking a break from your current workload, maintaining a real-world focus while learning new theory in tandem.


Are you interested in further improving your leadership skills and advancing your career? Explore Northeastern’s graduate programs in leadership.