What Constitutes a Good Management Education?

The words “management” and “leadership” remain conflated, as they have been for at least forty years, when “leadership” entered the “management” lexicon. Once upon a time learning how to run a group or an organization was to learn how to manage. In fact, at their inception, in the second half of the 19th century, business schools were intended to foster a shift from teaching management by apprenticeship to teaching management in the academy. It was only when this original model was acknowledged to have failed, at the end of the 20th century, that the word “leadership” became commonplace.

For all practical purposes there are no leadership schools at the graduate level – the closest thing we have are business schools. Of course, business schools teach subjects other than leadership. But, as their mission statements testify, leadership is at the heart of what they profess to instruct. For example, the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University declares its mission is “to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world.” Because Stanford’s mission is typical rather than atypical – leadership is what most business schools are about – what constitutes a business education is, or it should be, important to those who care about the exercise of good leadership.

The recent trend in business education is to reject traditional two-year MBA programs in favor of others that are shorter and cheaper. This is not to suggest that MBA programs are threatened with elimination or even going out of fashion. In fact, advocates such as the dean of the Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria, reiterate at every turn the virtues of the two-year business degree. But, no question that traditional MBA programs are being impinged on, especially by programs opting to offer Masters in Management degrees (MiM), which generally are earned in a single year.

Cutting graduate management education in half, from one year to two, is obviously controversial. But it’s an idea, a strategy, whose time has come. The shorter course of study is attractive to many who conclude that the longer course of study is just not worth double the time or money.

Inevitably this raises the question of what constitutes a good leadership education? I address this issue at length in my recent book, Professionalizing Leadership. What I’ll say here is that any curriculum that can too easily be chopped in half is suspect.

Followership – A Case in Point

We remain a tiny minority. We – those of us in the leadership industry who believe that followership is every bit as important as leadership and that, in fact, leadership cannot be understood apart from followership, or leaders from followers – remain at the margin of the field. People want to learn how to lead, not how to follow. Therefore, by and large those of us in the leadership industry give them what they want – we sell what our customers are willing to buy.

But, in the real world, it is followers not leaders who sometimes – not always, but sometimes – frame the discussion. It goes nearly without saying that Saturday’s March for our Lives event in Washington DC, and those hundreds of satellite events scheduled to take place simultaneously, all of them essentially student-led efforts to end gun violence, are cases in point.

The words “follower” and “followership” are still burdened by the mistaken conception that followers are sheep and that followership is far less important than leadership. But to look at the literature on followership – stunningly small as it is – – is to understand that followers are simply others than leaders. They are those, such as high school students, who are without power, without authority, and without influence.

Obviously, not all followers create change. But sometimes they do. Sometimes the ostensibly powerless have the capacity to tap into changing cultures and, now, new technologies to seize the day. As has happened in this case. As has happened to these followers who, in consequence of their own up close and personal experience with gun violence, changed the conversation.

Does this mean that these students, initially certainly all from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have been transformed from followers into leaders? Arguably yes. But to focus on semantics is to miss the point. The point is that these young people, without any obvious resources, were able to do what their putative leaders were not. On issues surrounding gun violence, they have rallied the American people in keeping with nothing less than their own expressed preferences.

Lean In, Sheryl! Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is!

Since 2013, when she came out with her mega-hit book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg has been something of a “feminist” icon. Though many took issue with the degree to which she put the onus on women to be more assertive, especially though not exclusively in the workplace, for five years she has been the most prominent among women leaders nudging others to become prominent women leaders.

At the same time, she has been, of course, chief operating officer of Facebook. It’s a position she has held since 2008. Moreover, since 2012 she has been a member of Facebook’s Board of Directors. Therefore, she, as much as anyone else at Facebook, save its founder and chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, can take credit for the company’s stunning, singular success, and must now take blame for the company’s stunning, singular stumbling. Let’s face it – Facebook’s facing a scandal that could turn out similarly. As stunning as singular.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, it’s time for Sandberg to step out and step up. Zuckerberg is obviously her superior. But given her strong advocacy, her relentless urging of women to lean in, Sandberg must not stand silently by, remaining publicly mute while her man takes the flack. No way she can continue to present pure as the driven snow while he is tarred and feathered. In short Sheryl, speak your piece or hold your peace.


Being a Mother, Being a Leader – the Motherhood Penalty

The effects of being a mother on being a leader are becoming evident to the point of indisputable. For a year now, I’ve made two points. First, that for various reasons being a mother and being a leader are difficult to reconcile, especially mothers of young children. Second, that some of the differences between mothers and fathers are deeply rooted not only in sociology, but in biology. That is, mothers carry babies for nine months before they are born, and after babies are born it is mothers not fathers who have the innate capacity to ensure their survival.

Two recent studies further support the hypothesis that innate, biological, differences between the genders impact workplace trajectories, and that these differences negatively affect women, but not men. The first is that previously mentioned (see my post of 2/15) analysis of what happens to women in family-friendly Scandinavia. For all the public policies that encourage gender neutral child rearing in Sweden, women do more of it, men do less of it. While the reasons for this difference do not emerge from this latest study, it’s not much of a leap to suppose that breast-feeding alone accounts for some of it. It is only after the first child arrives that the gap in pay in Sweden becomes considerable, with women over the long term earning 20 percent less than men.

That is, women who are mothers. Women who are not mothers are not similarly disadvantaged. Not surprisingly, the motherhood penalty persists throughout women’s professional lives. Female executives in Sweden are half as likely to be chief executives as men. And they are one third less likely to be high earners, almost certainly because they work fewer hours, take longer breaks away from work altogether, and are more likely to move into family-friendly but lower paying jobs.

Another Swedish study had a different focus, but with similar results, results that suggested that biological differences between men and women disadvantage women not only professionally, but personally. Turns out that winning an election increases subsequent divorce rates for women, but not for men. Similarly, females who become chief executives divorce at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

The hypothesis that innate reasons play a part in explaining why women who top men are penalized for it, seems additionally to be supported earlier in life. When single women, including young single women, know that they are being watched by men, they tend to downplay their ambition for money and power. They know, or they think they know, intuitively if not intellectually, that they will be less attractive to men if they appear too ambitious.

No wonder the number of women in top leadership roles remains stubbornly low –  the world over. I am not arguing that the obstacles to gender equity are impossible to surmount. I am arguing that acknowledging the role of biology as well as sociology is necessary to taking on the challenge. No matter how inconvenient the truth.


“How To Be a First-Rate Subordionate”

Nothing against Isabel Berwick, who recently wrote a column so titled for the Financial Times. Credit where credit is due: at least she focused on subordinates, as opposed to fixating like everyone else, on superiors.

But her advice, as it were, was so puny and pathetic, her piece turned out an unwitting reminder of how fallow the field of followership. She had just two suggestions.  First, subordinates should deliberately be selfish. Since they have no major managerial responsibilities, they should use their freedom to pursue their passions. Second, subordinates should manage up, not by being toadying, but by being forthright. They should, in other words, recognize that “they have a part in making relationships work.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that – with either of these two bits of suggestions. Rather it’s that how to be a “first-rate subordinate” is far richer and deeper, more complex an issue than Berwick suggests. Whatever her good intention, her column does little more than point to the yawning gap between our understanding of leadership and our understanding of followership.


Bad Bosses – A Plague

For years I’ve been baffled by the ubiquity of bad bosses – and the propensity of people to do nothing about it. Surveys testify to the widespread dissatisfaction with superiors by their subordinates, and plenty of anecdotal evidence is in support. Whenever I ask audience members who among them has never had a “bad boss,” those raising their hands constitute a feeble fraction of the whole.

No question that bad bosses are a phenomenon as malevolent as prevalent.  They harm not only individuals – bad bosses induce bad feelings and bad health – but institutions. The data suggest, for example, that lower rates of productivity are correlated to higher rates of job dissatisfaction.

All of which raises the question of why we continue to tolerate superiors who give subordinates short shrift; employers who treat employees carelessly or callously; bosses who interact with underlings as if, somehow, they were lesser.

Generally, it’s difficult for those with less power and authority to take on those with more, especially in the workplace. Personal and professional costs tend to be high; personal and professional benefits tend to be low.

The solution to the problem then is not at the level of the individual, but at the level of the institution. Specifically, private sector organizations should lead the way by rejecting once and for all the single, dominant metric of corporate performance – shareholder price. Shareholder price has been the yardstick by which corporate leaders have been measured for years. But, as Rana Foroohar points out in the Financial Times, a modest movement’s afoot to add at least one more metric, involvement in significant social and political issues.

But, I would argue that before adding this criterion, there’s another that’s more important. Employers should be judged in considerable measure on their employees’ engagement. Superiors should be judged in considerable measure on their subordinates’ satisfaction. Leaders should be judged in considerable measure on their followers’ fulfillment.

Holding bad bosses accountable for their own bad behavior would go a long way toward ending their iron grip on those otherwise obliged to suffer in silence.


Corporate Leaders? Or Corporate Followers?

Questions: What do The First National Bank of Omaha and Alamo Rent a Car have in common? What does MetLife share with Delta Airlines? What’s the similarity between Symantec and Allied Van Lines?

Answers: In recent days leaders of each of these companies cut (though not entirely) their connections to the National Rifle Association. In recent days leaders of each of these companies made a business decision based on pressures exerted by followers. In recent days leaders of each of these companies was constrained both by changing cultures and technologies.

Gun control is one of the issues – others include immigration and discrimination – on which America’s business leaders are being pushed to take positions they preferred to avoid. Until now leaders of the above-named companies were content to maintain their previously existing ties to the gun lobby. Only in response to political pressures – mainly from young people and their allies using social media to express outrage – from below did they finally conclude that the better part of valor was to change course.

58% of millennials, 55% pf GenXers, and 51% of baby boomers think it important that the businesses and brands they support reflect their views on issues their care about. Recently frayed ties to the NRA do not, then, reflect corporate leadership so much as they do corporate followership.

Being a Mother, Being a Leader Redux – Gender Wage Gap, Gender Leadership Gap

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the impact of motherhood on leadership. More specifically, each is about the impact of being a mother, especially of babies and young children, on the ambition of women actively to pursue positions of leadership.

Here I argue that new research on the persistence of the gender wage gap is equally pertinent to the persistence of the gender leadership gap. Recent findings indicate that the reason for the gender wage gap is not what we thought. It is not, for example, gender discrimination, or choice of profession – women working in fields that pay less. Instead the wage gap between women and men is a penalty for bearing children.

The research was conducted by Princeton University economist Henrik Kleven, and described in a recent article in Vox.* Kleven found a “sharp decline” in women’s earnings after the birth of their first child – with no comparable salary drop for men. Put differently, the earnings of women who are childless are the approximate equivalent of men’s; the earnings of women with children are significantly lower. This wage gap persists across countries and cultures, even in Scandinavia, with its exceedingly flexible and generous family friendly public policies.

What happens in Denmark is a case in point. While on paper parents are allowed to split up their parental leave equally, in practice it doesn’t happen. In practice, Danish women take off fully 90% of time after the birth of a child – with men accounting for only 10 percent of parental leave. Why?

For the public record Kleven says there are two possible explanations. One is nurture – an environment in which social norms encourage women, not men, to be the primary caregivers. The other is nature – women could have a stronger preference than men for spending time on childcare.  Which again raises the question, why? Why might women have this stronger preference?

To answer the question, I turn to prehistory. To a world in which only mothers had the capacity to ensure the survival of the species – that is, to feed their helpless infants. To a world in which fathers provided direct care of their offspring in only 5% of mammal species.


George and Amal Clooney, Followers. George and Amal Clooney, Leaders.

This is how it works. How people can be two things at the same time – followers and leaders.

Two days ago, the Clooneys followed the lead of the Florida teens who spearheaded the March for Our Lives, the anti-gun violence rally scheduled to take place on March 24 in Washington DC. Moreover, the Clooneys went all out. First, they made their position public. Second, they donated half a million dollars to the cause. Third, they announced that they personally would take part in the March. “Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country.” Finally, they signaled their role – they were followers, they were following the lead of “this incredible generation of young people.”

In this single stroke, the Clooneys became, simultaneously, leaders. They inspired other people – other very, very famous, and very, very rich, and very, very powerful people – to join their cause. Such as Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn. Such as Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw. Such as Oprah Winfrey who made clear that it was the Clooneys’ lead that inspired her to follow. “George and Amal,” she tweeted, “I couldn’t agree with you more. I am joining forces with you and will match your $500,000 donation to ‘March For Our Lives.’”

Yes, this is how it works – how being a leader and a being a follower are not mutually exclusive.  Along with the “young people” themselves, the Clooneys made certain that the March March will be an event for the ages.



And the Children Shall Lead

In the wake of the latest school shooting at a south Florida high school, some 30 students at another south Florida high school took to the streets to protest. Their message was clear, and it was targeted directly at their elders. Elders who freely offered their “thoughts and prayers,” but who have done nothing to stop the carnage. Who have failed to enact even the simplest of solutions, such as insisting that gun buyers get background checks.

The students were too few in number to make much of a difference. But they had the right idea. It’s clear that meaningful changes in the nation’s gun laws will not come from the top down. Which means that they must come from the bottom up.

This is one of those sociopolitical issues that demands a sociopolitical movement. That demands followers who refuse to settle for the status quo. That demands followers who take matters into their own hands. That demands followers who morph into leaders.