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Executive Education

The importance of leadership

By Peter Walker for CNN
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(CNN) -- Leadership. Increasingly, it is the mantra of business schools intent on producing executives not only conversant in accounts, marketing and finance, but able to inspire and energize their companies.

But is this all getting too much? One man believes so.

In a recent article, Henry Mintzberg, professor of strategy and organization at McGill University's Desautels business school in Montreal, Canada, argues at length against what he calls the "cult of leadership."

His views, carried in a special supplement on business education by the London-based Financial Times newspaper, were contrasted with an opposing argument from Frank Brown, dean of the Insead school in Paris, who believes leadership must be a core part of an MBA.

Mintzberg is a regular critic of aspects of modern business education, and he turned his sights on what he sees as the fallacy of trying to teach leadership.

"Courses and MBA programs that claim to create leaders all too often promote hubris instead. No leader has ever been created in a classroom," he wrote.

Instead, leadership grows in the context of work, Mintzberg said, where it also gets "its most important characteristic: legitimacy."

"Enough of all these young, barely experienced people running around calling themselves 'leaders'... just because they attended some course, or because some institution spilled the holy water of 'leadership on these people they hardly knew."

All too often, Mintzberg said, the concept of leadership becomes a tautology -- a company is successful and therefore must be led well.

Micro-managing is bad, he noted. "But more serious now is macro-managing -- managers who sit on 'top,' pronouncing their great visions, grand strategies and abstract performance standards while everyone else is supposed to scurry around 'implementing.'"

Core skills

An equally important notion is that of "distributed leadership," where many people share responsibility for a project, as with online encyclopedia Wikipedia and software collective Linux, Mintzberg argued.

"Every time we use the word leadership, we have to bear in mind that it isolates an individual while treating everyone else as a follower."

In his opposing article, Brown took an entirely different tack, calling leadership training "one of the main pursuits of business education. MBA students should not only earn a degree, they should also earn leadership."

This involves tangible skills such as communication and networking, team building and mentoring, not just the more prosaic abilities of an administrator.

"Simply said, the last thing the business world needs is more managers. On the contrary, it is in need of more leaders," he said.

This is not just relevant for "the headliners" aiming for the boardroom. "It must be a concept with the potential to include and apply to everyone," Brown said, meaning such skills cannot simply be picked up on the job.

This is even more important in the modern, globalized world, where executives need to be conversant in the business culture of more than one country or region.

The business environment is changing fast, and needs "a generation capable of leading this new world, not just managing it," Brown said.


A born leader? British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill.


FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Hong Kong UST, China
3. London Business School, UK
4. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Kellogg, U.S.
9. Stern, NY, U.S.
10. Cass, City University, UK
Source: Financial Times 2006



Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.


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