MBA a license for effective leadership?27 May

Destiny magazine, Issue 11 (March-April) raises some criticisms about the effectiveness of MBA’s referring to them as ‘Mediocre but Arrogant’ ; ‘Mighty Big Attitude’; and relating to the financial crisis in the last few years, as ‘Masters of the Business Apocalypse’.    Harsh words but not without truth.

My recent doctoral thesis was a critique on business leadership development methodologies in MBA classrooms in 3 South African and 3 international business schools.   This revealed the continued popularity of old, ineffective styles of teaching prevailing in the classes observed.   The methodology which was mostly unintegrated, disciplinary based teaching that reflected the hierarchical nature of the academic institutions visited.   This is not the kind of world that our leaders of today are faced with.   They have to grapple with complexity, ambiguity, paradox and continuous change and uncertainty.    The question must also be asked, in what business does finance, human resources, marketing, leadership etc., operate in isolation.

Students are very seldom exposed to the inter-disciplinary nature of business and they are seldom exposed to the realities of business in the postmodern era.    The notion of complex dialogue as a process where all stakeholders are brought together to solve problems as a community was not encountered in any of the visited schools.   Yet this is the way leaders have to engage when addressing complex problems.   There is little precedent in the past on which to base decisions for today….the problems are all too novel for that.   There is also no place, in today’s world of business, for a leader that makes decisions independent of his management team and the community in which the business is based.   Yet schools do not teach this kind of integration, deep communication and consultation.   Hierarchy, ‘the teacher knows best’ and old notions of leadership which place the leader in a revered, elevated place of wisdom are either palpable or obliquely veiled in the culture of the school and in the manner in which hierarchy and competition is valued by lecturers and school leadership.    Humility does not enter the picture.   Yet it is this quality that opens the door to integration, to listening, to effective knowledge creation and to the resolution of complex problems.

Our business schools need firstly to consider giving a lot  more attention to leadership development in MBA programs.   They need to include skills training on leadership models that support effective leadership in the postmodern context.   Some of these would be the inclusion of deep dialogues models such as those of Scharmer and Gunnlaugson.    Business schools should think of transforming their culture into one which reflects postmodern notions of leadership such as the work of Greenleaf in Servant Leadership or Jim Collins Level 5 leadership.   Business schools tweak curriculum, add in overseas trips, new case studies and experiential exercises as improvements to their programs.   This is insufficient; what is needed is holistic cultural transformation of behaviour, people, curriculum, process and programs.

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Dr. Elaine Saunders – Industrial Psychologist

Phd in Leadership Development
Author of Assessing Human Competence
Specialising in online competency-based assessment tools, leadership development and performance counselling
Based in Sandton, Johannesburg

My key areas of intervention revolve around helping individuals to achieve their potential in the work context. To this end, my consulting practice comprises of three key applications which are related. These are the application of competency-based assessment in recruitment and leadership development, counselling as it pertains to performance, wellness and the recovery from trauma, and leadership development coaching.

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