Connect with others, even MBA’s

by | Sep 18, 2012 | Blog | 0 comments

“I’d get rid of all MBA’s.”

That was Professor Henry Mintzberg’s response to Dan Rockwell’s recent magic wand question.

Specifically, Dan of the popular Leadership Freak blog asked the best-selling author and professor, “If you waved a magic wand over businesses, what would you change?”

Professor Mintzberg, I respectfully disagree—and it’s not just because I have an MBA.

Now, your other point—that management is not about principles, but instead is all about connecting—I totally favor it.

However, before “unpacking” (which now seems to be the popular term for explaining a concept) the value of connecting, let’s return to the woebegone MBA’s.

(Professor Mintzberg isn’t the only one who thinks MBA’s are out of favor. Business school applications are now down for the fourth year in a row, according to a Wall Street Journal article.)

Businesses, especially leaders who are implementing strategy initiatives, benefit from employees who are literate about the business. Business literacy includes knowing how your company makes money, where it spends it, who the biggest customers are, their concerns, the competition, how your company differs from them, trends influencing your business and industry, the key metrics you track and why and other relevant information. This should be the stuff you learn in business school.

Individuals who don’t go to b-school certainly can become business savvy and literate in other ways. And they should—if they want senior leaders to take them and their suggestions seriously.

This gap in basic business understanding is a sore spot with senior leaders. Lack of business awareness and understanding among employees can bog down the roll out of strategic initiatives in my experience. Leaders have to provide remedial education.

For example, take the financial institution that is replacing IT systems introduced during the Nixon administration.  Since then, Finance has adopted fax machines to transmit data between business units, but that’s about the extent of their high-tech tools. The employees have been so insulated from advances in technology as well as current business issues that the first order of the strategic initiative is to bring employees up to date with 21st century business practices. (For more about the importance of business acumen, see “A is for acumen and…”)

Businesses also benefit from employees who are committed to continuous learning. And employees also help themselves in their personal and professional lives by embracing learning.

We can’t rely on our past knowledge and experiences for success in today’s VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). We’ve got to learn and apply new things.

Individuals without graduate degrees can still be excellent lifelong learners. However, the discipline of the classroom (or the computer for those who are doing online learning) plus the exposure to learning opportunities certainly can help catapult people to improve their skill set.

In our VUCA world with new dilemmas facing us, we also need to be able to adapt quickly to changing situations.

Having FLIP habits (focus, listen, involve and personalize) helps. (If you’re interested in more information about this, you can access the recording and slides from the recent webinar, “Exploring FLIP habits: Strong habits that build strong leaders.”

And FLIP habits themselves are all about connecting with employees, which is full circle back to Professor Mintzberg’s point about what management is all about.

Managers who connect well shine the spotlight on others, not just themselves. As they focus on others, they also show a strong sense of curiosity, working to build a community and trust.

Managers also connect when they roll up their sleeves to help others see issues more clearly and take wise actions. Yet, good managers also refrain from doing too much for others. No micromanaging. Instead, they recognize that their role is to leverage others’ talents and guide them appropriately.

As I like to say, manage more like Tom Sawyer than his creator Mark Twain. By getting friends to help him paint the fence and enjoy the experience, Tom embodied the spirit of letting other people do the work to get better results. Effective managers ensure that their direct reports are thinking, deciding the right actions to take and acting.

Connections like these contribute to trusting, collaborative working relationships with or without MBA’s.

Are you convinced? Or do you want to join the good professor in getting rid of the MBA’s?


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