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The need to build the eager-to-learn leaders

By Visty Banaji
October 11, 2010 13:01 IST
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The industry today needs eager-to-learn leaders and not the know-it-all Gods that management institutions are creating, says Visty Banaji.

The two fatal flaws bedevilling management education in India are the God problem and the LOL problem.

The God problem arises because industry is looking for an apprentice angel when it recruits a fresh MBA - instead, it lands up with someone ready to fill only God's (the CEO's) shoes. Here are the roots of the mismatch:

God is used to ordering large numbers of people (without having to worry about resources or criticism). He just has to say "Let there be …." for things to happen.

What employers need are people who not only create bright plans but are capable of selling them to the teams whose acceptance they need to gain before they earn the right to lead them.

God has no problem telling acolytes "what you're doing is wrong - I will teach you. And if you don't obey, you will be thrown out of paradise".

The language more appropriate for an entry-level MBA to use with people who have been around for a while in the organisation is: "You're doing a great job - let's work together (using the new skills and fresh concepts that I bring) to do something even better."

Oh, God!

The primary role for God is to create a vision - preferably in seven days - after which he can rest and leave his prophets to carry on with the implementation.

What organisations expect from a budding leader like a fresh MBA is to create excitement about more mundane goals that emanate from someone else's vision and energise the team to achieve them.

When God busies himself again, after the well-deserved post-visioning rest, it is on vast, unconstrained, strategic and multi-functional plans.

The apprentice leader is, however, expected to start, tucked away inside some part of a particular function, by taking 'satisfying' decisions with limited scope, time, information and resources.

God loves to teach "lesser breeds without the law" about far flung cultures and the lessons they hold for transforming the organisation's ethos through healthy, neutron-rich diets.

The budding leader, on the other hand, needs to be more sensitive and learn about the culture of the organisation first, figure how to be productive in it next and only then seek to change it - and that too constructively.

Of course, not all premium business schools can be faulted for creating Gods. Some of them go one better and create investment bankers and derivative designers who occupy the rung above God.

After all, this breed of MBA can create entire lamentations (I learned this collective noun in school but this is the first time that I feel its use is entirely apposite) of black swans with increasing frequency and magnitude while the good lord struggles to find a single black swan in a century.

Where's the leader?

And this brings me to the LOL or Lack of Leadership problem. Industry is thirsty for people who know the art (not just the theory) of dealing with people and who are ready and happy to start with the seemingly mundane task of leading small teams to achieve exceptional business success.

This would be the most promising material from which to groom and choose tomorrow's captains of industry.

However, when business schools drill people to become the number-crunching Turing machines demanded by their highest paying customers, that is, the investment banks and strategy consultants, it is but natural that they cannot also mould the same raw material within the same span of time to become the team players and people leaders that industry needs.

Most business schools in our country today are not interested in designing courses that build leaders who can understand and influence people, and not just interpret balance sheets and regression equations.

They churn out analysts who are just the right "plug and play" for the financial services or consultancy sectors. For no fault of theirs, the same profiles are misfits in the real business world where teams have to be inspired to innovate and make and sell things that customers want.

In this sense, MBA is an appropriate acronym for Master of Business Analysis and this type of education can supply only a small part of the leadership talent industry needs.

It is heartening that at least some business schools have turned to the task of developing the business leadership apprentices industry can use without having to go through a whole process of re-education and expectation management.

As distinct from an MBA, such a course would perhaps be better called the MEL or Master of Enterprise Leadership. It may be difficult for today's elite business schools to do without the steroidal placement highs their day "zero" clients provide and turn to the hard task of shaping talent that industry can use and which is happy to work there.

For this very reason, it is a blue ocean opportunity for the next generation of management institutes which are seeking to establish a distinct niche for themselves.

Their prime focus should be to build the eager-to-learn leaders that industry needs and not the know-it-all Gods that elite institutions offer.

Visty Banaji is CEO of Banner Global Consulting.

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