Executive MBA – an interview with Massimiliano Ghini

9 October 2023

Massimiliano Ghini is an emotional intelligence expert, adjunct Professor of Human Resource Management at the School of Engineering, University of Bologna and Organizational Behavior Professor at Bologna Business School.

He has been working on emotional intelligence in leadership, change processes and teamwork since 2000. In 2023, as several times before, he won the Best Teacher Award for the Bologna Business School Executive Masters.


-How has the set of soft skills that companies require of their employees changed in recent years?

A first question must be asked: what does the business market dictate to us? The context has changed, we are always working under pressure and under high uncertainty.  In recent years we have experienced pandemic, war, rising energy cost etc. To change is the new normal: there are no longer 8-year cycles of “normality” and business, it is necessary to get used to working without knowing where we are going. This changes the core skills that make it possible to achieve results today and maintain them over time. We talk, rightly, about environmental sustainability, but too little about human sustainability in organizations. Emotional distress from this context can turn into physical sickness and freeze even the best skills.

This is why emotional intelligence, our ability to combine emotions and rationality for sustainable behaviors, becomes a necessary skill in today’s scenario.

Moreover, increasingly developed critical thinking is needed. Today we don’t know what will happen ten years from now, technology is evolving quickly, making barely mastered tools obsolete. We need to work harder on logic, on what lies behind technology, critically understanding its changes and how they affect the human mind.

Still, we have the challenge of how to create engagement. The 2020 pandemic has brought about a systemic crisis from which there is no way back. Paradigms have shifted: it has been realized that for some tasks smart working is effective and required by people. Companies must understand these new needs. They are not passing fads. It’s just that we come from generations with the “study, work, rest” paradigm. Today’s world tells us that the “rest” phase won’t be there: students are looking at 50 years of work without having a real retirement after all, we don’t even have to talk about work-life balance anymore, just life balance. Hence the challenge: how do I create motivation, a sense of belonging with such different generations and needs? I like to tell my students that we can force a child to go to bed, we can’t force them to fall asleep.

Here is the need to develop leadership that can manage complexity, productivity, and people. The questions that every leader should ask himself or herself are: Do I have a path worth following to propose to the people I work with? Am I able to make the team I work with understand how important they are in the path we take together?


-How does Bologna Business School’s EMBA help its participants develop the involved soft skills?

In the classroom, I like to provoke the participants. I told them that the things I was going to say cost 200 euros. They find the topics we will cover in books, pamphlets, and online papers that if they wanted to buy they would pay that kind of money. But what I tell them is not worth 200 euros. What is the difference? Here we learn to understand how to apply knowledge. Here is the real added value.

There is, then, a key topic that you struggle to see at first, but it makes all the difference. You can clearly perceive it at the end of the course: if you try to ask the Graduation participants what are the real pluses gained from the Bologna Business School Master’s program, you will get the answer “experience and relationships.” But, what is the economics of experience? Beyond knowing, being a protagonist: sharing, teamwork, confrontation on a project-based learning process: that’s what the added value is. The teacher becomes a facilitator of an exchange that, combined with well-structured learning, generates an experiential journey that is an accelerator of growth. The lecturer must bring out people’s experiences because it is a value-creating process. Having competent lecturers with cutting-edge content is necessary but not sufficient. The relational and confrontational dimensions are really important. If you look at the writings on LinkedIn of graduates there is great emphasis on the team they did the project work with, the labors they did with other classmates etc. They hardly thank us just for the content but content+collaboration+network is a valuable formula.


-Emotional intelligence & coaching program: what is the function of this course in the EMBA learning economy?

I think the focus is to propose a path to the participants: we start from “how people work” and not from “how we would like them to work.” We start with the mechanism, we discover the rational and the emotional part. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman tells us that we are not as rational as we think we are. People trained to handle and use strong rationality often underestimate the emotional part. But as soon as we start approaching this topic, everyone immediately understands its importance: automatically there is an insight into why we are working on this.

But how to apply these issues in a collaborative logic? We need to understand that today’s competitive scenario leads first to the need for collaboration. The more complex the world, the more we go back to basics: homo sapiens defeated the great predators thanks to two macro factors: tools and collaboration. These themes are, in today’s corporate world, once again the ground to work from.

In the course, however, meeting other managers risks increasing entropy: one risks being overwhelmed by possibilities. It is necessary to understand what the right path for each person is; and where I can make a difference, according to my abilities. That’s where with coaching programs the theme shifts to the personal, to each individual case, to the transposition of all these issues to one’s own life and career with external support that becomes essential to make effective growth steps.


-How participants’ lives, both personal and professional, are transformed after 19 months of attending the master’s program?

At the end of this path, people realize that one can do things previously thought impossible. Closing such a strenuous and rich MBA allows people to say “It can be done.” People discover that there are more worlds than they imagined: at the end of the course, everyone is different because they have made discoveries, and they have known new points of view.

Those who are thinking about taking on one of our MBAs should come to Graduation and see the happiness, the participation, and the energy that is developed. The path shows that with the right guidance and commitment extraordinary things can be done. Seeing families cheer together at this milestone is exciting: you can rediscover the beauty of doing, of achieving goals, and of being together.

Also, I like to quote Eugene Burger, an American magician who graduated from Yale. To those who asked him why such a prestigious scholastic career and then became an illusionist, he replied, “Because, that way, when I walk into a room, I don’t feel inferior to anyone.”

After such a long and challenging path you know that you are prepared, that you are ready to face the business world with a solid background. There is a feeling of achievement that gives happiness: a brain that feels pleasant emotions hangs better and keeps wanting to learn, and you have the desire to go on, to study, to improve and to be part of the BBS world: that’s the Community, the Alumni, the network that develops and remains.


-Why invest in BBS to do an EMBA?

Bologna Business School is one of the top schools, with international honors such as EQUIS accreditation, with faculty who have relevant backgrounds and have understood that helping people achieve goals is different from just teaching.

Then, there is a big part that cannot be measured: the human factor, the contact. We’re not perfect, but I’m sure everyone in BBS does his or her best to consider people who come to the School as people and not customers. If you think about finance, you say Milan. If I think about relationships, I say Bologna.

Bologna Business School, placed in an incomparable economic network, with university institutions and companies behind it that have no equal in the world, adds that unique feel of connecting, making immediate links, and enhancing emotions.


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