People Management: Develop Essential Management Skills with an MBA

Business leaders have developed new priorities over the past few decades. Initially, everything was about numbers, and a manager’s primary concern was adhering to the demands of executives. This usually meant meeting specific financial targets, and spreadsheets ruled every decision. This is still true to an extent — market research and budget reports remain an important part of any company’s decisions.

However, the best-performing businesses understand that the ability to navigate Microsoft Excel isn’t the only trait of a great leader. Effective people management is essential to success in a leadership role. As topics such as employee engagement and ongoing performance management become increasingly important in the workplace, companies have started looking for leaders who can not only manage operational and financial concerns, but nurture and inspire people. The right MBA program can help managers learn both types of skills.

How to Manage People

Think back to your favorite boss. What was it about that person that made them such a pleasure to work for? Did they micromanage you, or did they train you to a point where they were comfortable with your skill level and left you to your own devices? Did they force everyone to perform the same tasks regardless of who did well, or did they find your individual strengths and capitalize on them?

Effective managers understand their employees on a personal level. They don’t become best friends, but they do know their staff’s personalities, strengths and weaknesses, then use that knowledge to put people in the best situations to excel. Great leaders are strategists who understand their team consists of nuanced individuals — not drones.

Successfully managing in a people-centric way requires a specific skill set. These skills, when utilized properly, can transform managers into the types of leaders who can have an impact on employees, and ultimately on a business’s level of success.

Technical Knowledge

Big data is an increasingly large player in business, and it’s a trend that shows no signs of reversing. According to a 2021 report released by market research provider Global Industry Analysts, the global data market is expected to reach $234.6 billion by 2026. This means there will be ever-increasing volumes of data that leaders must be prepared to sift through. What’s more, the data sets businesses rely on are getting larger and more comprehensive.

As such, it’s become increasingly important for leaders to have the technical savvy to interpret previously unimaginable amounts of information. Having an advanced level of technical knowledge can allow leaders to develop hyper-targeted strategies for business growth and sustainability that can potentially yield significantly more robust results.

While collecting and sorting data is best left to computers, it’s the role of business leaders to interpret the results, organize and present them, and use them in forecasting and marketing.

Emotional Intelligence

Effective leaders of tomorrow should also possess emotional intelligence; a nuanced understanding that working with people requires different skills than working with data. Also known as EQ (emotional quotient), emotional intelligence refers to a person’s ability to identify and understand emotions. This not only means the emotions of others, but also their own emotions.

According to a 2020 article from Verywell Mind, having a high level of EQ can lead to improvements in several core competencies associated with workplace success, such as communication, interpersonal workplace relationships, problem solving, and for leaders, how to manage people.
There are even health benefits to having a high EQ. A 2019 study published by Frontiers in Psychology concluded that people with a high EQ can defuse the onset of acute stress. As technical innovations and the concept of company culture continue to evolve, it’s become greatly important for managers to possess the qualities commonly associated with a high EQ.

People skills are a significant part of emotional intelligence. It’s not enough for managers to simply understand their employees; they need to be able to communicate with them as well. Traits such as active listening and the ability to provide constructive criticism go a long way toward motivating staff members and improving their performance. In addition, managers need to be empathetic and self-aware.

A common complaint among business leaders — not to mention the people who work for them — is that many people new to management and similar positions have never critically evaluated themselves before. These novice leaders tend to ignore their weaknesses in favor of theory and statistics. As such, not only do they not have a grasp of their own failings, but they also lack an understanding of how they come across to others.

Self-aware leaders are able to work around their weaknesses, in part by utilizing the assistance of people who are strong in ways they aren’t. Such leaders are also more likely to trust their coworkers, leading to better collaborations with stronger outcomes. Overall, these self-aware leaders create a positive working environment.


Managing spreadsheets requires a more analytic mindset than managing people, but this analytical skill is just as valuable. First and foremost, spreadsheets and the like require organization. Business leaders sort through reams of data on a daily basis, and this information can change at a moment’s notice. Therefore, leaders must also be flexible, fast thinkers who easily adapt to change. It does no good to instruct employees based on information that’s two years old. Even data from two months or two weeks ago can be outdated.


The ability to understand a spreadsheet and make key decisions based on its data can allow managers to make the most of their human capital. Say, for instance, you’re an executive at a software company, and your monthly helpdesk report showed a sharp increase in the number of incoming tickets. Rather than assume your technical support team is doing a bad job, you would contact your software developers and review the product release history. It’s highly likely that customers are experiencing issues with a new upgrade and encountering bugs your developers didn’t foresee. You’d then set up a timeline for releasing a software update with bug fixes. In addition, you’d also send a memo to your support staff, reminding them of the importance of good customer service during high-volume periods.

It’s this mix of technical, emotional and management skills that makes an exceptional business leader, and it’s something most companies look for in new hires.

Strong Management Leads to Measurable Outcomes

One might argue about the benefits of managers developing soft skills. What’s the point of learning how to interact with people when a business is focused on the bottom line? Does the ability to manage people affect profits and productivity in a meaningful, observable way? In reality, a thorough mastery of interpersonal skills is necessary for business leaders to increase employee engagement and, as a result, see bigger gains in business success.

Conversely, a lack of employee engagement can have a negative effect on the bottom line. A 2019 Forbes article reported that disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% reduced productivity, and 14% reduced profitability. Essentially, disengaged employees cut into a company’s financial viability. Good managers who engage with employees can prevent this from occurring.

One way managers can engage employees and reap the subsequent advantages is to tailor their approach to individuals, not just groups. Dealing with the different viewpoints of executives, shareholders, employees and customers is one of the most challenging aspects of business. No matter the position you hold in a company, you need to know how to interact with people of different personality types and competing interests. Leaders who do so gain the respect of their employees and coworkers, who in turn feel more positively toward the business as a whole.

Additionally, managers should create an environment of trust. When employees trust their leaders, they feel more at ease and are less likely to harbor negative feelings toward their jobs. The natural result of trust and respect is greater engagement. This was especially evident among millennials when the pandemic disrupted usual workplace patterns. A 2021 Gallup poll indicated that 75% of millennials felt engaged while working since the onset of COVID-19, a number bolstered not only by remote work, but also due to management demonstrating a heightened EQ level. These metrics further reiterate the importance of blending people management skills with strong tech and business competency.

Developing Soft Skills with a Master of Business Administration

Soft skills are often forgotten in the world of business until it’s too late. You might ignore these valuable qualities until sales are down over consecutive quarters or your best employees are leaving because they don’t feel appreciated. Too many companies find themselves with leaders who can read an entire issue of The Economist with ease but have no idea how to inspire salespeople.

That’s why MBA programs like those at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business have created their curriculum to reflect the needs of businesses based on real-world experiences. Upon completing your degree, you’ll enter the job market armed with the business skills employers value, and the hands-on experience that sets you apart from other candidates. You’ll read and generate financial reports with ease while simultaneously demonstrating excellent people management skills.

An MBA also introduces students to cross-cultural concepts. International business is expanding, both because companies are entering new markets and because consumers are making more e-commerce purchases from around the globe. For companies to thrive in these markets, businesses must have leaders who understand and build effective intercultural communication. Many of today’s job seekers lack the ability to grasp cultural nuances, but an MBA gives you the capacity to think across borders.

Learn more today about the University of Maryland’s MBA programs at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.


Recommended Readings

The Future of Business

Important Business Skills

Why Should Your MBA Focus on Data?



Entrepreneur, How a Technical Background Translates to Exceptional Business Leadership

Forbes, How Much Are Your Disengaged Employees Costing You?

Frontiers in Psychology, Does Emotional Intelligence Buffer the Effects of Acute Stress? A Systematic Review

Gallup, What Disruption Reveals About Engaging Millennial Employees

StrategyR, Big Data: Global Market Trajectory & Analytics

Verywell Mind, Utilizing Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace