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.

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