One of the topics that my clients often bring to the table in MBA consulting and leadership coaching is the desire to enjoy a better work-life balance. Well before the tragedy of March 11 and its aftermath people seemed to be working harder and harder and spending less and less time in leisure activities that rejuvenate and actually improve productivity at work.
With the challenging time demands placed on you in your work and in your test preparation for MBA studies, you likely feel that there is just not the chance to engage in extracurricular activities, no matter how much you wish to.
Attractive MBA candidates have an active life outside-of-work
This absence of activity outside of work leaves your résumé looking shallow compared with candidates who balance their contributions on-the-job with involvement in the community off-the-job. When MBA admissions are assessing the attractiveness of MBA applicants, and the quality of their test scores, academic experiences and professional experiences are judged to be similar, the offer of acceptance may well go to the candidate who is active in extracurricular activities.
Clearly, work is the focus of your life but it is not your only life.
No one would suggest that you not focus on your job and strive for excellence in your professional life. However, if you have no activities outside of work since graduating from your university, and you desire to become involved in your community, ask yourself why you have not taken action. The answer is probably related to the need for improved time management.
Good time management is a skill invaluable for the rest of your career, and as you progress in general management in your organization, you will be increasingly involved in activities outside of your office. These will include social or quasi-social activities important in business and client relationship building. They may involve participation in extracurricular professional organizations, like your local chamber of commerce. Or pro bono lectures at local universities.
Learning to “kill two birds with one stone”
A good time manager knows how to “kill two birds with one stone” as the idiom goes, and sometimes more than two. You would be surprised at how much extra time you can squeeze out of a day if you work at it. Remember that the skill development in time management that you acquire during this phase, when your are preparing your MBA application, is an ability essential to succeed in MBA studies, during which you will be required to read, analyze, and discuss hundreds of pages a week of materials written in English, and to interact daily in English on study teams or in group projects with your MBA classmates.
Improve your English in the real world
Most of you are struggling to improve your iBT test scores in preparation for your MBA or other graduate school application, and the most likely greatest challenge for you in the iBT test is the speaking section, consisting of several tasks integrating listening and reading skills with spoken English. Unless you supplement formal study of iBT textbook material with informal practical English discussion in the real world, your improvement may be far less than your potential.
Already worried about being called on in an MBA class? This is the so-called ‘cold call’, in which suddenly your professor may ask your opinion on any of the material assigned for your MBA classes. Don’t wait until MBA summer school to prepare for such English communication. Start now by speaking English and developing English-language negotiating skills to enhance your iBT score, improve your ability for MBA study itself, or for that matter, for your entire life.
You can “kill (more than) two birds with one stone” by integrating the focused study you are doing for the iBT with participation in Toastmasters International, a virtually free-of-charge public speaking organization with branches around the world, and even chapters in overseas MBA and other graduate schools, including Kellogg, Harvard (Kennedy School), and MIT. There is even a Wharton alumni club Toastmasters in the Silicon Valley.
Aside from presenting prepared English-language speeches in Toastmasters, you will also have chances to “think on your feet” in extemporaneous public speaking and discussions of current issues, training that will improve your iBT score, pre-prepare you for MBA interviews, and provide interactive English practice simulating the real world of an MBA student.
Consider, for example, the TABLE TOPICS component of Toastmasters meetings. For 20 or 30 minutes before the prepared speeches, your Topicsmaster will select a topic and call on several members in your group to give an impromptu 1-2 minute response. You may be asked to give your opinion and will learn to concisely present 2 or 3 reasons to support it. Other exercises ask you to state a problem and its causes, indicate a goal and the ways to achieve it, or describe a process.
Many of my clients enjoy Toastmasters not only for the value in developing their English communication ability but also for the opportunity to broaden their international network and develop their leadership as officers in the club. You will learn to speak like a leader. I have never known a leader who could not communicate effectively. Have you?
How to join Toastmasters
1. Go to Toastmasters International @ http://www.toastmasters.org/
2. Use the ‘Find’ function to locate a Toastmasters club near you, or start up a club, in itself a leadership opportunity.
3. In Japan there are 108 Toastmasters clubs, including 19 in Tokyo. Some meet during breakfast or lunch time, others in the evening, some on weekends. Select and visit the club most convenient to you in location to your office or home, or in the scheduling of its meetings.
It’s as simple as that.
All the best,
Warren J. Devalier
©2011 Warren J. Devalier