What does it take to create an outstanding leader? Apparently, not a Harvard MBA. Based on a study by Henry Mintzberg of 19 Harvard trained CEOs identified as superstars in 1990, ten were outright failures and another four are mediocre at best. Only five of the 19 seemed to be doing all right. This year alone, another 150,000 MBA’s step into leadership positions in corporate America. How do MBA’s become leaders we can trust?

I couldn’t believe my ears.

“Fundamental weaknesses in graduate management education are a significant cause of the current economic crisis.”

“You don’t become a manager in a classroom, and you certainly don’t become a leader in the classroom.”

“The (business) schools will claim, as many of them do, that you’re being trained not only for business, but government and for the social sector, and that’s just dead wrong.”

I like listening to the Harvard Business Ideacast (podcast). Some of the interviews are a little boring, but more often than not, I get a lot out of them. Henry Mintzberg, the professor of Management Studies at McGill University was recently featured (episode 138). He was being interviewed about his article in the Globe and Mail this past March entitled ‘America’s monumental failure of management’.

He had a lot to say about Business Schools, and it wasn’t good.

Firstly, Mintzberg believes the entire format of schools like Harvard is wrong. They teach management as though it is a profession, and it’s not. “There’s no such thing as managing in general, there is only managing in a specific situation.” Beyond a handful of disciplines such as economics and accounting, management is only ever learned as a practice.

Not only is the ‘professional’ perspective of management wrong, the method business schools use to teach the material is destructive. Mintzberg believes that the case study methodology used in most business schools gives a false sense of confidence when dealing with crisis. The Case Method teaches decisiveness, not insight and good judgment. These case studies are not just inadequate, but they set up ‘dreadful simulations’. Students are learning how to make big decisions based on twenty pages of information. George W Bush is a great example of being decisive without possessing in-depth understanding. It does more harm than good.

Finally, business schools directly contributed to the ‘short-term’ attitude that drove CEO’s to ‘gut the golden goose’ of the American economy. How? By promoting an analytical view of the world. Such a perspective is easily translated into a numerical view of the world where rather complex issues are reduced to simple things. “So the bottom line is very convenient for people who are steeped in analysis because gives them something tangible to work with. But the world is nuanced and highly complicated.” Mintzberg believes that this “emphasis on analysis and measurement is promoting short-term(ism).”

In the Globe and Mail article, Mintzberg summarized that “ Management is a practice, learned in context. No manager, let alone leader, has ever been created in a classroom. Programs that claim to do so promote hubris instead. And that has been carried from the business schools into corporate America on a massive scale.”

I’ve written before about MBA’s and the call for reform in my post; Corporate Social Responsibility is Just Self-Interest. But Mintzberg’s comments go beyond reform to something more akin to revolution. He might be on to something.

In the series I am currently writing for the blog – “Trust: Why Business Lost It and How To Win It Back”, I make the point that Corporate Social Responsibility alone will not engender trust. Instead, business leaders need to build partnerships with communities and nonprofits in order to leverage the social capital that exists there.

Mintzberg is calling for a contextualized real world training regiment with a view to long-term outcomes. I believe this is exactly what partnerships with communities and nonprofits should look like. I also believe, that such partnerships have the ability to create outstanding leaders.

I can’t quite place it, but it seems to me I know another ‘community organizer’ who’s turned out to be a good leader. And I don’t think he has an MBA.

Wait… it’ll come to me.

Email: chrisjarvis@realizedworth.com
LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisjarviscan
Twitter: @RealizedWorth

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