Post #906 – December 6, 2021

Can Business Schools Really Help You Develop Leaders?


As the war for talent is in a “crisis mode,” I was intrigued to see one international firm launching a “new MBA level program with a group of business schools to give Associates executive leadership training.”  My first reaction was . . . Not Again!  

Now business, as an academic subject, is all about things that are logical, rational and analytical - it is fundamentally about knowledge. It can be learned by reading books, analyzing business cases, studying relevant theories and discussing the applicable principles involved. Thus, we sit in classes and intellectualize, but never have to deal with those messy, idiosyncratic humans.

Leadership is really a behavioral skill, that is about whether or not you can actually influence individuals and teams to accomplish anything. So, it requires putting people through a set of processes or simulations where they have to experience and react to a real-life scenario, try out different approaches to the situation at hand – thereby developing their emotional self-control, interactive style and determining what might actually work best when dealing with different people.

I’ve watched a number of firms link up with prominent business schools in an effort to train their people. These lawyers may be learning about business, but when it comes to leading, it is a case of the blind leading the blind! And esteemed academic, Henry Mintzberg, professor at McGill made this same point in his excellent book, “Managers not MBAs”. He also was “totally against this notion that you can separate managers from leaders, which implies that leaders don't have to manage, and means that leaders don't have to know what is going on intimately in their organization - which is wrong.”

This had me wondering what might happen if we got back to basics and started really managing our people. Let’s start to hold accountable those with managerial responsibilities to deliberately and intentionally engage in one-on-one coaching with those on their teams. Ever hear the old adage that “people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers?” 

For example, let’s ask each lawyer to divide their client work into three categories: LOVE this stuff; Guess that’s why they call it WORK; and If I could only get this CRAP off my plate.  Now, exercise effective coaching to help your lawyers identify which matters turn them on, then help them get more of that kind of client work.

Imagine a concerted effort to start HELPING people grow their skills, get the kinds of work they desire, and succeed in building their expertise . . . NOW how many would want to leave that kind of environment?

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