Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who will be the leaders of the future?

Business Schools and programs claim that they prepare the leaders for the future. But is this the reality?

The number of B-schools and B-programs has exploded in the past 20 years. In the go-go era of the 1990s, the MBA was the American Express Gold Card. Yet, these programs that promised to create leaders, produced followers instead.

These follower leaders marched over the cliffs of ENRON, Bear Sterns, World Com, Countrywide, etc. like lemmings, taking their investors, creditors, employees, customers and the public into the financial abyss we see today.

Can we expect the B-Schools and programs to change this situation in the future?

Training leaders may not be possible. Developing leaders may be their real job.

Leaders will be developed by those who are willing to follow. Leadership is a nice term but hard to define. Leadership styles within a society or organization change over time both in response to the external environment and the internal demands of the institution being lead.

The leadership literature is full of one size fits all theories. Unfortunately, everyone has a different one size.

Mahfouz Naguib, the 1988 Noble Prize winner in Literature has a quote:

"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.

You can tell whether a man is wise by his question."

B Schools have been teaching "cleverness" for the last 20 years, when what organizations and corporations have needed is wisdom. Asking the right question is the skill set organizations today need to negotiate the rapidly globalizing, interdependent business and political environment.

With wisdom comes ethics, with cleverness comes greed. B schools should focus more on training tomorrow's leaders to ask questions, while training the followers to be followers who provide clever answers that wise leaders might consider and question.

Having taught as an adjunct business professor from time to time, I am afraid that most MBA programs reward the clever and are threatened by the wise student.

But then these programs only reflect what the MBA market is asking for in terms of leadership.

Maybe the answer is that leaders will emerge in times of crisis from within the population and in response to the needs created by the crisis. They always have.

But once things return to normal, society will throw them out and replace them with the clever follower leader. Society has always done so.