Tag Archives: Harvard business school

Real Leaders Know What They Don’t Know

I’m afraid this might be a theme. I posted In Praise of Not Knowing here April 30, an ode to the value of respecting uncertainty. I suggested there that not knowing is a sign of intelligence. I’ve caught it a couple of times since in the context of leadership. Leaders know what they don’t know.

Bob Sutton recently posted his 12 Things Good Bosses Believe on one of the Harvard Business Review sites. Here are two points in his 12 that go straight to that point.

  • I aim to fight as if I am right, and listen as if I am wrong — and to teach my people to do the same thing.
  • One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is “what happens after people make a mistake.”

Several months before that, also on a Harvard Blog, Bill Taylor posted Real Business Geniuses Don’t Pretend To Know Everything. Consider this:

In simpler times, fierce personal confidence, a sense of infallibility as a leader, might have been a calling card of success. Today it is a warning sign of failure, whether from bad judgment, low morale among disillusioned colleagues, or sheer burnout from the pressures of always having to be right.

I particularly like that last phrase: “the pressure of always having to be right.” That’s a hard path to take.

(Image: cowpland/shutterstock)

Is Education Missing its Target or Just Aiming at the Wrong Target?

I’d like to think that business education should be about education more than business. It should be about leadership, perspective, and vision, more than about analysis, buzzwords, jobs, and salaries. But is it? Or is that just the kind of high-sounding stuff we write when looking back, years later?

Rethinking the MBAI’ve seen two important pieces on higher education and business education in the last week, one questioning the idea of the MBA, the other questioning higher education in general. While the Harvard Business School writes about a glass half full in The Future of MBA Education, Seth Godin writes about what he calls The coming melt-down in higher education on his blog.

The Harvard post summarizes a new book called Rethinking the MBA, by David Garvin,  Srikant Datar, and Partick Cullen. It’s about six cases of well-known business schools (including Stanford, my personal favorite) revising their programs to deal with a changing world. In the interview, Garvin says:

Yet rebalancing from the current focus on “knowing” or analytical knowledge to more of what we call “doing” (skills) and “being” (a sense of purpose and identity) must occur. Business schools need to think innovatively about how best to use the resources available to them. For example, there are many exciting opportunities to engage alumni in the learning process.

Seth Godin calls his bleak picture “as seen by a marketer.” He predicts “meltdown” in higher education for five reasons:

  1. Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.
  2. College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.
  3. The definition of ‘best’ is under siege.
  4. The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.
  5. Accreditation isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.

He makes several very good points. This observation seems all too true:

College wasn’t originally designed to merely be a continuation of high school (but with more binge drinking). In many places, though, that’s what it has become. The data I’m seeing shows that a degree (from one of those famous schools, with or without a football team) doesn’t translate into significantly better career opportunities, a better job or more happiness than a degree from a cheaper institution.

In both cases, to me, it’s about confusing education with job training and job placement. If you measure success by average salaries and job placements, then as a society you substitute job training for education. The target is growth of the person, not growth of the income.

I have to admit that I started thinking about getting an MBA degree when my dad showed me a newspaper story about MBAs getting high-paying jobs. So now years later, I write about education first; but for me it was about changing careers, from journalist to business.

That worked for me. I did change jobs. However the real value, as I look back, was in the classroom, what I learned, much more than the step up to the next job. Years later, what I expect from somebody with an MBA degree is a better view of the whole business, from finance to marketing to operations, human resources, and so forth. You might work in one functional area, but you have basic understanding of the whole, not just your specific part. And you have a sense of what business analysis is like, how and when it’s useful.

Or at least, that’s what I hope. I’ve also posted on this blog my thoughts on what business schools can teach, what they don’t teach, and questions to ask before getting an MBA.

Want Real Strategy? Mind the Damned Gap

Mind the gap. It’s written all over the London tube (subway). They mean the gap between the trains and the platform.

Mind the gap. It should be written wherever somebody is doing strategic planning for small business. It means that extremely common gap between the brilliant strategy cooked up in the meetings and the actual day-by-day work of all the people in the company.

The gap is  lack of strategic alignment. It’s basic, like alignment between what you say and what you do.

You come out of the strategy meeting all enthused about the new strategy with new emphasis on new priorities. Then you get back to the office. The phone rings. Problems arise. You put out fires. And go back to doing what you’ve always been doing. Strategy hasn’t changed anything. It hasn’t been implemented.

One of the most important benefits of a good business planning process is strategic alignment. You set the strategy and develop the steps, agree on metrics to track progress, then follow up on those metrics with plan vs. actual analysis that can end up showing how the daily doings inside the business match (or don’t match) the larger strategy.

In most cases, its not quite as academic as it sounds. It’s about spending the time and money where your strategy says your priorities should be. I ran up against this basic truth hard in one of my favorite consulting engagements, years ago, which I’ve posted here as this true story of how the strategy pyramid helped one group in Apple Computer track actual spending and activities to enforce the implementation of the strategic plan.

Without planning processes, metrics, and tracking, that gap becomes a gigantic fissure separating your strategic from what you’re actually doing. This is one of the biggest, and most common, problems in small business.

I’m pleased to see the same things showing up in this week’s Harvard Business School Working Knowledge site:

“Explicit” strategy is the one you read about in your company’s planning memos and PowerPoint slides. The second, “implicit” strategy, is what emerges when middle managers and line employees attempt to execute the explicit strategy.

That’s the beginning of One Strategy: Aligning Planning and Execution. Noah Parsons tipped me off to that one. It’s a very interesting interview with Marco Iansiti, Harvard business school professor, co-author of One Strategy. It looks like a good book.

Moral of the story: mind the damned gap.

(Images: JMOliver, Slavoljub Pantelic/Shutterstock)

For Late Bloomers Everywhere … Hope, Optimism.

I didn’t want to add another Ted Kennedy tribute to the world today, but Dan Levine (schoolmarketer in twitter) tipped me off to Ted Kennedy, Low Potential Leader by Sarah Green on a Harvard Business School blog; and I couldn’t resist passing it on. Especially this last paragraph:

So for me, today, Ted Kennedy’s life is a reminder that much can be achieved by late bloomers; that you don’t have to have your career all figured out by the time you’re 25, 35, or even 45. It’s a reminder to look beyond your little cadre of overachieving stars for the person who doesn’t have it all together. Don’t count him or her out. There’s always time.

Here’s more from that post, good background. I shouldn’t have needed reminding, because I’m old enough to have lived through all this, but still …

He’d taken six years to graduate from college (getting banished for two after he tried to cheat on a test) and been strongly discouraged by his family to run for the Senate in 1962. They didn’t think their black sheep could win. In 1969, he left a party with Mary Jo Kopechne and drove into a lake, an accident that resulted in her death. In 1979 while running for the Presidential nomination, he couldn’t answer a softball question about why he wanted to be president. He didn’t even make it out of the primaries. His youth — and I use that term elastically — was marred by drinking and womanizing. In 1981 he and his first wife announced their divorce.

And yet, ultimately, Edward M. Kennedy did become a leader. As a strategist and negotiator, he was the Senate’s “happy warrior.” In a body notorious for gridlock, he got things done. As a mentor, he was generous with his time and influence; and the more generous he was, the more that influence grew. Historians will argue about whether he was one of the most powerful senators of all time — or the most powerful senator of all time.

(Image by marysuephotoeth via Flickr)

MBA Pledge: What About the Other 80%?

Comedian Robert Klein has a routine where he grabs a consumer fruit drink that claims “contains 10% fruit juice,” and asks: “What about the other 90 percent?”
And the graduating class of Harvard MBAs last week had a special new code, A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality that 20% of the graduating MBAs signed. The New York Times reported:

Nearly 20 percent of the graduating class have signed “The M.B.A. Oath,” a voluntary student-led pledge that the goal of a business manager is to “serve the greater good.” It promises that Harvard M.B.A.’s will act responsibly, ethically and refrain from advancing their “own narrow ambitions” at the expense of others.

And I can’t help asking: what about the other 80%?