Matt Symonds: Business Education: Companii

Learning to lead in challenging times

05 noiembrie 2009, ora 14:40 | 3.118 afisari | in Companii
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The last year of financial turmoil has raised many questions about the role of leadership in the workplace, with a number of commentators citing bad leadership as a key factor in the global meltdown. As a result companies are now more enthusiastic than ever to find and develop people with the ability to lead through difficult times. With this in mind, it will come as no surprise that the world's business schools and executive education providers have had to look closely at how they teach the leadership skills needed during an economic downturn.

A recent report by the influential leadership development company, Mannaz suggests that there has been a seismic shift in the perception of how leadership should be taught. The results show that 75% of organisations favour an increase in 'on the job' coaching as part of a move away from traditional classroom-based teaching methods or outdoor experiential events. Mannaz Executive Vice President, Jorgen Thorsell comments, "Approaches that foster learning from peers and encourage networking within the organisation are increasingly preferred. The responsibility of senior executives to sponsor internal leadership development initiatives is now more critical than ever." Other findings are that 65% of firms are keen to develop entrepreneurial instincts in their managers with the same figure saying they want to increase the quality of their current executives, rather than bring in new blood.

So how have changing attitudes towards leadership in the workplace affected how it is being shaped?

Professor Marc Buelens at the Vlerick Leuven school in Belgium has developed an extended case study of the famous polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton as part of the school's international MBA programme. Shackleton's reputation as a great leader is based largely on how he led his whole team to safety after they became trapped in the Antarctic ice on an abortive expedition to cross the continent. "Today, leadership has to be about working under difficult conditions with limited resources. I felt that what was really lacking was a strong case study on leadership within these paradigms,"; says Professor Buelens. "Examining Shackleton's methods can teach you five of the key lessons leaders need to learn to perform effectively: how to work with limited resources, how to let go of the past, how to keep troublemakers close, how to be self-sacrificing and how to bring order and success to a chaotic environment."

Other schools have also looked at how they teach how to lead under pressure. On the Masters in Management course at Nyenrode in the Netherlands, the students are sent to a 'boot camp' run by ex-marines where they are taught to be good followers, as well as good leaders. Those on the school's international MBA programme work with professional actors who role-play through real life work-based challenges. In Spain at Barcelona's ESADE business school, participants on executive education programmes have a theatre class aimed at instilling communication skills which the school sees as key to effective leadership. The class goes as far as teaching techniques used by stage actors such as controlled breathing, concentration and the use of facial expressions, silence and pauses.

In Australia at the Melbourne Business School, a different approach is taken. The teaching of business leadership starts with an insistence that true credibility comes from a clear understanding of the numbers. "Our role is to educate leaders who understand enough about the finances and the risks to make wise decisions," says new dean, Jennifer George. "As we face up to the repercussions of the credit crisis, the students themselves now also recognise the value behind this philosophy."

Carol Rue, who teaches on the 'Practice of Management' module at Warwick Business School, says the most important thing is to listen to the market. "What we have tried to do here is react to the feedback we get from companies to provide our students with the leadership skills they will need throughout their careers. That's why we don't just provide coaching in this area but also put them in to real-world situations to address a specific problem or challenge. We find it's one of the best ways of developing really practical leadership skills."

However it is taught, it is clear that leadership skills are increasingly valued by employers in the current market. And as the business world changes to incorporate the lessons learned over the last year, tomorrow's leaders had better take note. Mannaz's Thorsell sums it up when he says, "It is essential that an institution’s development is directly linked to the agenda of how to survive in tough times. The greater the challenge and change you face, the more call for leadership throughout the organisation."

Matt Symonds is founder of SymondsGSB and the QS World MBA Tour. You can follow more of his business education coverage on Twitter [SymondsGSB].

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Matt Symonds
Chief Editor
Matt Symonds
Matt Symonds is chief editor of, a website dedicated to the world's top business schools. Author... vezi profilul »
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