Today’s Nero Doesn’t Play the Violin, He Reads Cases: Academics and the Crisis in (Management) Practice

Posted on March 17, 2009


A good friend of mine forwarded to me a useful article. In it, Henry Mintzber argues that the financial crisis, which he characterizes as a crisis in management, may have its roots in the rise of the academic business program. For the article click here. The essential message: good business management practice is not something a person learns in a university classroom setting. Moreover, by pretending that it can be learned in the abstract environment of the classroom, the academic study of business practice may undermine good business practice.

Another good friend of mine wrote a thoughtful reply which I think might act as the linchpin for a useful discussion and one which goes beyond the business world because the rise of academic professional designation cuts across many practice-orientated disciplines — including the performing arts.  For professional reasons (I presume, but it may also be for “I’m too cool for dat” reasons), he prefers to remain anonymous.

He writes:

Interesting article. I have to agree with his observation that Management as an academic and business pursuit is to blame. Everything that has come out of Business Management schools of thought for the last decade has centered around Managers being Leaders. And Leaders defined as this semi-omnipotent visionary that can rally and lead troops through the perils of the business world and usher them to successes that were previously unimaginable. Funny thing is a) we can’t all be leaders, b) leaders still need managers, in the most mundane sense of the word, and finally c) visionary leaders tend to be f*cking crazy. For every one Steve Job or Jack Welch, there are nine self professed ‘Leaders’ who are absolute f*cking nutjobs (not to say Jobs and Welch aren’t f*cking nutjobs, they’re just successful f*cking nutjobs).

That said, being a “f*cking nutjob” isn’t a bad thing if you’re also brilliant (which often times they are) because the world needs those types to shake up old conventions and bring some new perspective and insight into how we do things. Of course, visionary leaders also command ungodly sums of money as compensation which is fair if they truly have been able to bring something unique and visionary to the table. And the well-run companies usually add a layer of competent managers, true managers in the sense of the word, who look after the details and handle the nutjob on top to inject some practicallity into an organization. 

However, somewhere along the line the prevailing business academics out there saw a marketing opportunity they could not pass up. They sought intangible “leadership” qualities, distill them into something that can be packaged into expensive weekend “executive” getaway courses and e-MBA programs. They inturn promised they could turn semi-competent managers into semi-omnipotent leaders. Eventually many of those who bought into this promise did land themselves the C-suite jobs and became leaders in their own right, commanding semi-omnipotent salaries — yet they really never did elevate themselves passed being semi-competent. The result — well I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.

 I leave you this to discuss; as either an insightful observation of a lowly corporate cog or someone who is just procrastinating from his job of writing yet another business plan that will be ignored.

 PS. And no Sterling, I will not blog about this. No one blogs anymore, that’s sooo 2003.


Thoughts? Comments? Replies?


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