Sunday, June 3, 2012

Business Schools: Run by Innovators or Dictators?

In a developing story it’s alleged that the Dean of Warwick business school has given instructions to all of his staff (academic and administrative) that they are not allowed to make any form of contact with a member of their alumni. 

What has this alumni done – murder, theft or something more sinister? No, it appears that after volunteering his time to the university, working with the student and alumni population over a significant period of time, arranging events and talks, where sometimes he was out of pocket himself – his crime was to suggest to the Dean areas where the university could improve and add value; to offer an annual excellence award which would be funded out of his own pocket and to question the ‘support’ (or lack thereof) he received from the Head of External Relations. 

It sounds like the kind of thing Joseph Stalin or another narcissistic dictator would demand – telling ‘his people’ who they can and cannot speak to - not what you’d expect from a modern day business school which you’d assume would be constantly seeking to add value and improve in a highly competitive market – and at least listening to, not sanctioning, inputs that could add value. It’s understood that this alumni member wasn’t a recent graduate (not that it should matter), but the Chairman of an International company with over 24 years’ experience advising organisations in strategy, transformation, and leadership. 

Knowing something about leadership, both in theory and practice, this example definitely falls within the power driven, egocentric type – big ego, small…… 

In today’s global economy business schools constantly have to re-invent themselves to survive as, firstly there is a demand from business that they do, and secondly the market is highly competitive – in order to do this you need transformational leaders, who have strong inter-personal skills and who are open to ideas and criticism – something that seems sadly lacking in the example above. In an article by Rich Lyons (2011) he states that “adaptive systems like natural selection respond to external changes, but do not anticipate them. Innovative strategies, on the other hand, are about anticipation,” (p.32). 

Lyons goes on to say that “perhaps more important, as business school leaders, we need to remind ourselves that we are in the human capital business – a long-cycle business.” 

Top business schools have always encouraged healthy and sometimes unhealthy debate – in fact that was one of their founding principles. The forceful and sometimes downright antagonistic debates that went on at Harvard Law were the foundation of case study debates in business schools today. Yet it seems in our global society where we have constant change, you can still find a Dean of a business school who, it appears, is blinded by their own importance. 

So is this example the exception or the rule? Fortunately it appears to be the exception and though there is still a lot of debate about whether business schools are doing enough to prepare their students for business, what’s encouraging is that the Deans of other schools within the UK; such as Judge, LBS and Said, to name just a few, appear to have a much more people-centric approach.  

Colonialism is, or should be dead, and what the world doesn’t need now is any form of colonial leadership, whether in business or academia, as this leadership style stifles innovation, destroys morale and develops internal cultures based on fear and self-preservation. So let’s hope that this example of poor leadership is nipped in the bud and the right changes can be made for the good of the school, the staff and their future. 


Lyons, R. (2011). Paths to Innovative Leadership. BizEd, Jan/Feb, p.32-38.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed to climb at any type of work takes more than the degree,is all about the passion you put on what you choose as a career.

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