Written by Joanna Hughes

The 2018 midterm elections are quickly approaching in the US and a lot hangs in the balance. If you are studying business and heading into exam season, you may be dealing with high stakes of your own preparing for them. However, keeping abreast of politics is important, and not just for personal reasons. In fact, an understanding of politics can help you throughout your career. Here’s a closer look at why all MBA students should be paying attention to politics.

Two Increasingly Intertwined Disciplines

Uncertain political times mean an uncertain business climate fraught with fears about the impact on the economy. And while the fears can interfere with growth and innovation, they are also necessary from a strategic perspective, argues economics professor Jeremy Ghez in Financial Times.

“Managers will need to rely on a wider range of tools and acquire a greater array of skills than the previous generation ever had to. In a business environment that is more and more politicized and polarized, and in which social divisions and inequalities are significant, a company needs to consider political and societal realities beyond its own market as those can play a decisive role in its success (or failure),” Ghez insists.

Business leaders must apply this same mindset. “Executives, in other words, should never think they make decisions in a political or economic vacuum. Their ability to understand and tame an increasingly uncertain and unstable business environment is key. The new complex reality they face should therefore shape the way business schools train the future generations of executives,” he adds.

More MBAs Pursuing Political Careers

However, interest in politics among MBA students is not just about furthering business careers. Rather, it can be about getting a foot in the door of politics. Take MBA student Michael Longaro, for example, who recently wrote in an MBA diary entry for The Economist that his friends were surprised that he chose to pursue business studies despite “liv[ing] and breath[ing] politics".

Longaro goes on to point out political studies were not a means to a career in business, but the converse. “There is a wealth of opportunity for those who understand the many ways in which they influence one another. I want to position myself as one of those people and help those with similar aspirations do the same….My rationale for pursuing an MBA was that it would give me a solid understanding of business fundamentals, from finance and corporate strategy, to marketing and innovation, whilst allowing me to hone the management skills I had gathered while working in the public sector,” he explains.

And more students are going down this route, according to a recent Poets & Quants article. The cause of this growing interest in civil service? Growing awareness of the urgency about becoming involved. And while the Trump presidency may have ignited this flame for some, experts insist it is about even more than that.

Matt Segneri, who heads up Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Initiative, suggests, “Increasingly, people are realizing the government controls the greatest amount of resources and serves the greatest number of people in localized areas. I think the trend line will continue to go up, in my point of view.”

Transferable Skills Abound

We have already established that politics inform business and that business informs politics. It follows that the two fields share similar skill sets. 

In other words, even if you don’t know yet whether you want a career in business, political science, or at their intersection, studying politics will come in handy one way or another. Angela Foster writes in The Guardian, “You will have gained a number of transferable skills, including being able to debate and examine issues from all standpoints, an ability to identify, analyze and find solutions to problems and to make reasoned arguments as well as excellent communication skills. You should also have acquired good research, teamwork and writing skills that will prove a bonus in a wide variety of professions.”

Certainly, understanding politics makes you a more informed voter, and that’s important, especially right now. It will also open the door to new career opportunities, regardless of the sector in which you plan to work. Above all else, however, understanding politics will give you invaluable insights into the risks and opportunities that lie ahead -- both from personal and professional perspectives -- as well as the skills to manage them.

Learn more about earning your MBA degree here.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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