EDUCATION & TRAINING Learning on the Leading Edge – Educating Ronald, Ralph & Rita

Vision, verve, compassion, charisma, leader, servant – it sometimes seems today’s managers have to stump up with abilities on such wide-ranging fronts that they need creative blend of Donald Trump-type characteristics with those of Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Anita Roddick.
So are business education and business leaders living up to what society needs?
Well no – not according to Jeffrey Garten, recently retired dean of Yale’s School of Management. He reckons the chance of business leaders being able to contribute to general community good has become even more remote as the pressures on them to narrowly focus on short-term considerations has, if anything, intensified in the past few years.
As for business educators, he adds, they’re more followers than leaders – bending their curriculum to customer (student) requirements. In Conference Board interview earlier this year, Garten described this customer-knows-best, ratings-driven philosophy as contributing to the “dumbing down” of standards.
If people don’t believe the educational institutions and professors know more about the learning process than they do, then they shouldn’t bother to go to the school.
Business leaders need to widen their learning focus, agrees the “father” of business coaching in the United Kingdom, Sir John Whitmore. When in New Zealand recently he cited traits needed by modern leaders as including not only emotional intelligence, inspiration, agility and self knowledge but “a mind open to knowledge”.
“Leaders have to keep learning about the world.”
So they can’t be oblivious to politics in China, for example, or ignore global issues like climate change. Business leaders, says Whitmore, need vision beyond profit-and-loss sheets – they have responsibility to society as whole.
Is that an agenda business schools can help deliver? Or is it more likely to be found in the growing number of leadership courses now on offer – either within corporate entities or via such bodies as Leadership New Zealand (LNZ), the New Zealand Leadership Institute (NZLI) or the public sector’s Leadership Development Centre (LDC)?
In many ways leadership training is moving into and extending on the more formal executive education options. At the same time, business schools are expanding their curricula to reflect the changing environment.
Ethics and sustainability are examples of subjects that would not have rated much of mention few years back, notes MBA Agency founder Regena Mitchell.
“Sustainability is relatively new concept that the management schools are placing more emphasis on. Ethics also has higher profile. Managing diversity – dealing with cultural differences in the workplace – is something that’s been around for bit longer.
“There is recognition that these are issues already confronting today’s leaders and that will confront future leaders. If they’re not covered [in schools] then students will feel the lack when they graduate.”
The environment for leadership in both private and public sectors has become whole lot more complex, says Alan Cassidy – manager for executive development at the LDC.
“The number of relationships and agencies that you need to manage in senior role, the expectations of stakeholders and of the community are much higher than even five years ago. The issue of risk is also more brutal, particularly in the public sector where you are just an action away from TV or newspaper targeting.”
And today’s technology means there’s no place to run – 24-hour global connection is what you might call mixed blessing.
Some of this complexity can be covered off in management education – the bulk is learned on the job, says Cassidy.
“We like to follow the model that says in terms of building capability or developing senior leaders, you follow 70:20:10 rule. That is, 70 percent is to do with experience accrued on the job, in the community, interacting, getting things done; 20 percent comes through significant others – coaches, mentors – in either structured or unstructured way; and 10 percent is in structured learning. That’s probably not what education providers want to hear.”
The fact that LNZ and NZLI have strong applied community focus is good thing, says Cassidy. It’s the application side of things that counts.
“The feedback we get from managers who attend intensive offshore courses is that they’re fantastic… but the buzz they get from it doesn’t last long. People get lot of good content in short period of time then come back and there’s no plan as to how that is integrated back into their role at work.”
MBA graduates suffer much the same problem and it’s the reason why Mitchell founded the MBA Agency. While directing Otago University’s MBA programme, she found around 25 percent of graduates ended up leaving the jobs and often the country because they couldn’t readily apply what they learned.
“These are people with good jobs, averaging around 37 years old – and they discovered they couldn’t re-engage their organisations with their knowledge. So they leave and go to Australia or London or somewhere else – and that’s sad. So we’re now trying to work with institutions and graduates and talk to them about how they might get reconnected here without having to leave.”
Cassidy suspects that there’s whole bunch of senior leaders in New Zealand who haven’t been able to apply what they’ve learned on various courses because it wasn’t applied quickly or structured into their work.
“Business educators need to have greater focus on what person does when they leave programme – at the moment that is quite superficial.”
With LDC’s residential leadership programme, the focus is on what happens once it’s over which, he says, is more important in some ways than the course content. Follow-up includes coaching support, structured action learning groups and an online individual development tracking tool.
He believes business education is often doled out for the wrong reasons (such as reward for past performance or it’s the recipient’s turn) and its benefits are not measured.
“Business education is an expensive intervention. The question organisations who pay the bills don’t ask is how will I know there is sound return on investment – either because it’s not integrated into job goals or objectives or it’s not targeted to individual development needs.”
To be successful and relevant, such education needs to be applied in the workplace and if not, it’s probably waste of time, adds Cassidy.
As to who determines education content – whether society push or customer pull – it’s an ongoing chicken-and-egg sort of debate, says Mitchell. But in many ways, the process of education itself feeds into societal changes that lead to the need for more egalitarian management styles.
“Personally I think the more education people have, the less they want to be told what to do – and the world is accessing education like never before… So as we educate the world, we’re having to change the way we lead. We can’t say to people we want you to do ‘x’ and expect them to do that without lot of reasons for why. Leadership has to adjust to people feeling like they have some say in what the decisions are going to be.”
And there’s really no end to the education journey – especially not for those playing leading role in society. Mitchell laments some of the limitations in post-graduate study in New Zealand in that people are limited to the topic they pursued at an undergraduate level when their interests may have become much broader.
“I think we’d see lot of people coming back to access higher levels of education if they had wider choice and that would enrich us. I think that’s why the MBA is used as much as it is – because you don’t need an undergraduate degree to get into it and it’s way of accessing knowledge at time people want to get into debate, ask questions, apply new learning.”
While the characteristics required of business leaders might seem more demanding, it really comes back to building self-kno

Visited 3 times, 1 visit(s) today

New NZ CEO and COO at FNZ

Global wealth management platform, FNZ, has appointed Jeremy Graham as Chief Executive Officer of New Zealand, and Aroha Steele as the country’s Chief Operating Officer.  The company says in a

Read More »
Close Search Window