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BW Businessworld

Developing Future Leaders

The primary job of business schools (B-schools) is to create leaders, who are equipped to handle the emergent issues that we are facing at the global level. The degree has become a must for the young aspirants, who are looking to fast-track their career, and yet amidst this mad rush to succeed, have we calibrated what success really looks like in the future? This is a question I personally grappled with when my four-year-old son asked me how the world would be when he “grows up”. The recent Paris attacks and the upcoming climate change conference of the parties in Paris painted a grim picture in my mind about whether we are training leaders, who will no doubt have to handle issues such as this in the not so distant future?

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The primary job of business schools (B-schools) is to create leaders, who are equipped to handle the emergent issues that we are facing at the global level. The degree has become a must for the young aspirants, who are looking to fast-track their career, and yet amidst this mad rush to succeed, have we calibrated what success really looks like in the future? This is a question I personally grappled with when my four-year-old son asked me how the world would be when he “grows up”. The recent Paris attacks and the upcoming climate change conference of the parties in Paris painted a grim picture in my mind about whether we are training leaders, who will no doubt have to handle issues such as this in the not so distant future?

So what would a successful organisation of the future looks like and are our business schools constantly evolving, recalibrating and realigning to this? As Patrick Lencioni, an American writer, rightly mentions in his book The Advantage that “the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre or unsuccessful ones has little if anything to do with what they know or how smart they are; it has everything to do with how healthy they are”.

A healthy company is one where the focus is on high productivity, high morale, minimal politics, minimal confusion (high clarity) and high retention/low turnover, where as a smart company is one that’s focused on finance, strategy, marketing, technology, etc. The writer’s suggestion is that a healthy company will get smart over time and will prove to be its biggest competitive advantage over time. The question I am left with is our B-schools really focused on creating leaders who can build healthy organisations?

When I was at B-school, the most sought after careers were those that paid the most — mainly investment banking and management consulting, and I was quite the guilty outlier. Now when I talk to graduates today and work with management on key issues, I observe that by and large the big salary package is still the most sought after commodity though technology and e-commerce businesses may have triumphed over banking. When I talk to them about creating organisational health, conscious leadership and long-term impact, a lot of the time I feel I am creating conflict with their very being and their notion of success. So how could the world have changed so much where “mobile living” has become our entire lives and yet the lens with which we view success remains archaic and elitist?

Perhaps real transformation and recalibration are possible when the perception of success itself alters and both B-schools and B-school aspirants have a critical role to play in that. It is a fair assumption that some of the brightest brains in the country will aspire for an MBA programme sometime in their life and the future of how we build businesses, lead countries and create impact will rest on the shoulders of the privileged few. This is a huge responsibility and one that needs careful reflection on the kind of world we want to create and live in. The impact of an MBA curriculum isn’t an academic discussion in my opinion — in fact, it’s a critical discussion we all need to be concerned about as it will create and shape the thinking of our future leaders. If earning the biggest dollars is deemed to be personal success and being profitable without worrying about impact is organisational success then solving critical issues in our world may that be sustainability, climate change, inclusive growth or security will continue to remain buzzwords that look good in annual reports but are not necessarily part of core business decisions. Just before I get boxed in as a hardcore socialist, I want to say I believe in market forces as much as anyone else but I also believe that businesses can change and shape the world — just look at what has happened in the past decade or so since I graduated. From my MBA programme that I recall as life changing was one that was called “creativity and personal mastery”, and the key ingredients were self reflection, challenging the limitations of our mind, and at its very core understanding our responsibility as part of a greater context or perspective. In short, it was about leadership not through case studies but through experiential learning focused on the self. This course kernelled everything else I learnt and imbibed at B-school and still remains a standout in my opinion. I only wished there were more courses like this as part of the regular MBA curriculum so that the focus can move from creating smart leaders to creating healthy leaders. In Lencioni’s words that’s the “advantage” and in my opinion that’s the future. It’s time for our B-schools and the aspirants to create that advantage for themselves.

The author, Ishani Chattopadhyay, has over 15 years of experience in international business, and currently runs Sacred Fig (www.sacredfig.com) that focuses on impact investing, conscious leadership and business. She did her MBA from London Business School and a Chazen fellowship from Columbia Business School

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-12-2015)


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