Business schools are failing to produce better leaders because they are sticking to doing the easy thing which is to produce shallow, narrow and static technocrats rather than deep, broad and dynamic leaders. The latter is doable, but it is harder work. It is easier to teach MBA students models than it is teach them the logic under planning the models and the limitations of the models they are taught. As a consequence they apply the models without understanding their vulnerabilities as happened in the recent global financial crisis.
It is also easier to shrink business to its narrowest definition one that doesn’t contemplate the role of business in society broadly in order to teach it and do the same within individual fields of business like finance or marketing. But the world slops messily across these boundaries and it is difficult for an MBA graduate to show great leadership if the real world doesn’t look like the world about which he or she was taught.
It is also easier to teach students the process for evaluating and deciding between existing models than generating newer better models. But leadership is not managing the present; it is about dynamically creating the future.
Business schools have not failed to produce leaders. Many of the world’s most successful ad conscientious leaders have come through business schools. The more important question here is: what sort of leaders are business schools producing?
It wasn’t a lack of leadership or even skills that accused the financial crisis of the last two years. The people involved to the decisions and practices that caused the Wall Street meltdown are very bright professionals – but they lacked a sense of broader context, and they made decisions in isolation. In late 2008, we leaned that a decision made by one person sitting at a computer could have a direct impact on millions of lives, quite literally altering history. A move that looks brilliant from the perspective of a lender or shareholder may be disastrous when considered from the perspective of home owners or small businesses.
Providing a broader vision requires that business schools marshal the resources of universities to exploit the full range of university expertise. Business schools must collaborate with public policy, law and environmental schools, as well as engineering and health care institutions. A business leader must understand the inter-connectedness of his or her business and even an industry to all the other parts of our societies.
Leaders must understand where business fits into the larger picture of our societies and culture and must also want to use the tools of business in a responsible way.
Medical schools impart a fundamental axiom to students. First do no harm. That principle must also be applied to business studies. It starts with schools ensuring that ambition doesn’t evolve into greed. Despite what we heard in the 1980s greed is not good. Ambitious on the other and, is glorious and it can be used in very positive ways.
Business schools have produced many business leaders, and many of them are in leading positions both in business and non profit or government organizations. But one should be realistic. A business school education is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to become a business leader.
Business schools provide the tools to hone your talents as a leader and help students to discover in what field they can provide leadership or what kind of leadership fits them. Leadership can take many forms: it can be charismatic visionary authoritarian base on expertise etc. Students must learn how to get things done through listening seducing and convincing and that is perhaps a less visible form of leadership than the old fashioned command and control type of leadership.
One has to define what successful business leadership means. Is it jus maximizing the bottom line? What led to the crisis on Wall Street was to focus on making more. Business schools do make good managers but to also make great leaders they perhaps need to focus on more ethical education. They need to take a fresh look at their curricula.
There is a disconnect between pure theory as taught in schools as against the reality Indian schools perhaps need to insist on more work experience before they admit students as students simply cannot relate to what is being taught unless they have had some exposure to the business world.
The contemporary world requires business to be sensitive and sustainable socially and environmentally. It is no longer enough to be efficient. It is also important to be good. The business school curriculum needs to go beyond skill development and include value development. They can tae a cue from Harvard Business School, which now administers an oath of ethics to its fresh graduates to sensitive them to their responsibilities beyond the bonuses.
The world changes so fast that the most important thing for business schools is to innovate Sound technical training in all the functional areas of management is necessary, but it is not enough. We also need to ensure that we develop in participants the skills they need to be effective – teamwork, leadership communication, cross cultural conflict resolution etc. But even that’s not enough.
Leadership isn’t just about knowledge and skills – it’s also about having the right mind set. We need to train people who view innovation as the lifeblood of business, who are entrepreneurial who embrace diversity who have sound values and professional ethics and who are never afraid to question themselves and even to re-invent themselves as the world changes.