Are Business Schools Clueless or Evil?

There was an intriguing post on the Harvard Business Review this past week. The MBASA would love to hear your thoughts/opinion: Are Business Schools Clueless or Evil?

The root of the issue runs deeper than that. Business schools are neither clueless nor evil. They are — like most students that flock to their classrooms — in transition. Overtly working to improve their competence and image and covertly wrestling with questions about identity and purpose. Asking, “what should I do?” as a placeholder for the much harder question, “who am I?”

Many curricular innovations, like the critiques they address, remain anchored to a traditional view of the business school as a knowledge hub whose function is to create and disseminate cutting-edge management theories and best practices.

That is still necessary — but it is no longer sufficient. Leaders are not made of knowledge and skills alone. It may have been enough for business schools to train students’ minds and hands when other institutions — local communities, long-term employers — took care of hearts and souls. This division of labor, however, is disappearing fast.

A growing segment of the workforce no longer spends their careers in the same organization, city, or even country. These nomadic professionals have looser ties with local communities. Their relationships with employers are often instrumental, lasting as long as each side brings value to the other.

Business schools, my research suggests, serve a broader function in the lives of these men and women. They don’t just give them tools to succeed in their jobs. They provide a field of dreams, and a tribe of sorts.

Within their walls, managers revisit their identities and aspirations. Strive to align what they can do with who they want to be. Refine their view of what it means to lead and whom they are meant to serve. Join communities that pressure, guide and support them long after classes break.

In short, business school courses serve as rites of passage — shaping the values, commitments, habits and mores of aspiring leaders. Let me be clear. I am not saying they should. I am saying that they already do. The questions are: how mindfully? How skillfully? On whose behalf?

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