Tuesday, 17 June, 2008

Que sara sara

Reading up about applying for MBA programmes, I notice that two of the most criteria are (a) does the candidate demonstrate leadership and (b) does he know exactly what he wants out of his career.

Both look peculiar, particularly the second. Business writers never tire of saying that change is the only constant, and that old-fashioned concepts about career are outdated.

If this is indeed the case, why is an applicant supposed to know where he'll be two to three years from now? Shouldn't the course help him discover his strengths and weaknesses and decide? Presumably the candidates, with perhaps the lone exception of entrepreneurs, are familiar with only one or two aspects of business, and most of the mandatary material is likely to be completely new to them. (For example, an engineer may know nothing about HR, and an anaesthetist, nothing about managerial accounting.) How would they know if they won't find any of these subjects interesting?

My problem with the first is that it biases the selection process towards proven leaders. On first sight, this sounds ridiculous because management schools are supposed to produce leaders. But what does 'leader' mean, a leading practitioner or a leader of men? The two can be quite different persons, especially in professions where motivating team-members is not the principal qualification.

For example, a fantastic market analyst may be a third-rate team leader. In spite of his limited man-management abilities, his team may deliver quite smoothly, even spectacularly, simply because they don't need too much leading.

Or is the insistence on proven leadership ensure that the largest number of graduating students end up in leadership positions, perhaps the best advertisement that a course can hope for.

Why, then, bother? (The grapes aren't sour yet, because I haven't started applying.) I suppose because what's good for MBAs and their schools may not necessarily be the best for business as a whole, especially is change is really omnipresent, and leading the forces (“Go marine go!”) may be a trifle old-fashioned in the Knowledge Economy.

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