Leaders who lack interpersonal skills struggle to engage employees effectively – and that is a huge threat to attracting and retaining top talent.

Peter Heslin, Associate Professor at AGSM @ UNSW Business School agrees poor leadership is a serious business issue. "Employee disengagement and high turnover often result from employees' frustrations with their manager and seriously erode organisational effectiveness."

This is why the AGSM's new Master of Management degree will begin with the compulsory starter course Managing Yourself and Others. With a sharp focus on self-management and interpersonal skills, the course will help students bring out the best in themselves and others in the workplace.

Course Creator and Coordinator Associate Professor Heslin is an expert in employee engagement. He also recently won the UNSW Business School's prestigious teaching prize, the 2018 Bill Birkett Award for Sustained Teaching Excellence.

"Managing Yourself and Others tackles a fundamental challenge of many university courses. When students ingest scholarly models and frameworks, complete a related assessment task and then move onto something else, they don't necessarily take forward many enduring, practically-useful capabilities," says Heslin.

These include leading and working successfully with other people as a result of mastering skills in proactive learning, self-knowledge, self-management, and acting in alignment with their highest priorities. That's why the course has a strong focus on self-management.

"Self-management skills are essential and presumed, but typically not taught," says Heslin. "So in this course students will be equipped to set clear goals and address hurdles to effectively managing themselves, communicating and working with challenging colleagues – and reaching their greatest potential."

Being in learning mode

The foundation for learning to do so is the practice of being 'in learning mode' – a concept Heslin and Dr. Lauren Keating developed and recently published in the top academic journal, The Leadership Quarterly.

People are 'in learning mode' when they adopt a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset perspective – identifying areas as opportunities to develop: "Rather than thinking, 'I'm not a finance person' or 'I can't do accounting', the idea is to instead identify the best next steps forward," explains Heslin.

Turning challenges into achievable goals is a practice they can continue throughout their career.

"When in learning mode, people focus on activities including setting learning goals, engaging in focused experimentation, collecting targeted feedback, managing potentially disruptive emotions, as well as reflecting on what can be learned and what to focus on next." 

Making plans for a successful future

Students in the course will also formulate and begin enacting a personalised career plan. "The idea is that it should be quite aspirational, but also not so far over the horizon that it's just a creative pipe dream," says Heslin.

"It's tempting to default to saying, 'I'm going to be the CEO of wherever'. Really? Do you really want to aim for that? "Career success is not necessarily about climbing up the corporate ladder as far as you can go – it's about aligning your values and working in a career that is the right fit for you!"

So students are guided to investigate their values and career aspirations. This is a particularly helpful process for students who are unclear about their next steps, perhaps because their undergraduate degree doesn't have a clear and obvious career path. They may identify opportunities they had not considered – or see new ways to align personal attributes with a role.

"We prime students to test stereotypes about what different roles entail, the extent to which they can grow in them and understand the way people relate to each other in those roles," adds Heslin.

Powering on

Finally, the course brings an awareness and knowledge to students about what they're really great at. "This is an important part of emotional self-management," says Heslin, "as is knowing how to deal with potentially disruptive emotions in ways that enable you to power on rather than being derailed by them."

So the course is designed to help students build each other up and highlight one another's strengths. "When you're more aware of the ways in which you and others are already awesome, you can then bring out the best in others and achieve great business results," says Heslin.

Managing Yourself and Others is one of the many courses offered in AGSM's new Master of Management degree.

"It will set people up to succeed by learning to manage themselves to do well in their studies, to learn from their experiences both in the program and at work, and to build a high-quality bond with their class colleagues. This is the key to getting through and thriving beyond any hard times."

Find out more about the AGSM Master of Management.