Thoughts on Leadership Education

There has been so much discussion and criticism in the media recently of greedy corporate bosses and corrupt politicians. Much of the debate focuses on issues relating to the fact that corporate and political leadership equates with individual power and wealth and total lack of interest in the public good. Most of the big corporate bosses hold MBAs or other business degrees, but were they ever trained in being socially responsible, accountable, ethical and upholding public-interest?

I have recently read an interesting article on leadership by Ken Starkey, Professor of management and organisational learning at Nottingham University Business School, in which he explores ideas around how MBA courses could initiate changes in thinking through shifting the core focus of leadership training……..more

Starkey begins with the argument posed by Nitin Nohria, the dean of Harvard Business School, that we need leaders who “demonstrate moral humility”, saying “we need an approach to leadership in which the starting point is our lack of knowledge, a frank admission that we do not know very much about how to build a sustainable system for business and society”. He calls this a “humility-driven vision of leadership” whereby “future leaders reflect and critique…move away from self-interest, and focus on finance, economics…. to challenge their own orthodoxy—a crude Darwinian view of business and society rooted in the survival of the fittest. They need to focus on the social consequences of their actions and accept responsibility for the business excesses of recent years”.
Starkey has seen a number of business schools already making changes to a instil this new approach to leadership with courses in, for example, “responsibility, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. The more inventive are using philosophy and the arts to critique dominant business mindsets. Jim March’s pioneering use of literature to teach leadership at Stanford is an example of this. The increasing interest in the psychology of personal development is another”.

If these adjustments could be made across all business schools, they could become “places of dialogue where citizens collectively addressed the limits of their knowledge. For this, business schools might recruit graduates from other disciplines, such the arts, humanities and the sciences, and create innovative courses to help future leaders imagine products and services which fulfil a more social need”. Over time we may see the creation of “a business system—in particular a financial system— responsive to the greater, rather than the minority, good”.
Starkey ends by saying, “This will not be easy. It requires a difficult balancing act between the intellectual, emotional and spiritual. But if we are to create a new business model out of the chaos of a crisis to which business schools contributed, we will need to take a long hard look at how leadership is taught in our schools. Business as usual is no longer an option”.

I hope the South African business schools are taking heed. This country needs a change in leadership and hence, a change in the training of its leaders.

One thought on “Thoughts on Leadership Education

  1. Mpume

    Thank you Dee for this article. I share your concern about the state of leadership in all spheres of society and the need for ethical leadership that can take our country and world to a sustainable future. Events such as the global recession of 2009 and 9/11 prior to that, are two of many worldwide events that illustrate how a lack of humility-driven leadership in various sectors of society, including business, is adversely impacting on our world today. Closer to home, the not-so-new dispensation brought along with it, BEE legislation, with a noble aim of bringing majority of South African people into the mainstream ecenomy. But, who doesn’t know that this has resulted in a few enriched “usual suspects” without much, if any, sustainable change to the lives of the poorest of the poor? I believe that we need future leaders who are able see a picture of a sustainable future and be courageous enough to pursue it inspite of being unpopular. We need teachers and role models who can pave a new way of leadership. We need real visionaries – not ambitious people. Ambition empowers and benefits only a single person, but a vision empowers society. We need trail-blazers who want to sow a seed of authentic and ethical approaches to business, media, arts & entertainment, government etc. Chairman of the Institute of Directors (IoD), Mr Ruel Khoza in his book titled Attuned Leadership, compares various styles well-known leaders of our time and concludes that being attuned to the real needs of your stakeholders has made some leaders more equal than others, and set them apart as legends. Unfortunately, they have been few. Most of these are driven by a picture of the future that is beyond themselves (and enriching themselves), but they saw a brighter future for their world. Even in business, we need leaders and companies who dare to envision beyond the benefits of their products and services, but a better and sustainable image of the future compared to today. Best wishes!

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