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How Can Business Schools Develop Leaders?

Developing leaders is what business schools aspire to contribute to society. The pledge to do so features prominently in mission statements, web pages and course brochures—and it is as appealing as it is controversial. While large numbers of students flock to undergraduate, MBA and executive programs that promise to transform them into “leaders,” the last decade has seen a mounting wave of criticism of what happens in those programs. Questions have been raised from outside and within management academia not only about whether and how business schools truly fulfill their promise to develop leaders, but also about what kind of leaders their graduates become and on whose behalf—with whose interests at heart—they lead.

For all the fascination and controversy that surrounds leadership, there is broad consensus on two key points. First, becoming a leader is not just a matter of acquiring a body of knowledge and practicing a requisite set of skills. It entails deeper personal work. That is, it requires acquiring a clear sense of oneself—an identity—as a leader, and aligning it with one’s personal values, history and purpose. The second point of consensus is that becoming a leader—and staying one—is a social endeavor. It requires understanding, connecting and giving voice to, the social context that ultimately grants or denies one’s permission to lead. Learning to lead, in short, is not an abstract matter. The only way to do it is through experiences—of leading as well as of following—and ongoing reflection on those experiences to distil lessons that may in turn inform future practice.

Given all that, critics of business schools argue, those who aspire to lead gain precious little by removing themselves from the ‘real world’ of practice. Despite these concerns, more optimistic authors argue that there is value in business education as a platform for leadership learning because work does not always offer the optimal conditions for individuals to draw meaningful lessons from their efforts. Pressure is often high and the focus is on achieving more than on learning. This is why, advocates of business schools suggest, it is beneficial to be immersed in an educational environment focused squarely on learning. With the help of conceptual frameworks that enable them to make sense of their experiences, and supportive, diverse communities that assist them in examining those experiences from new and different angles, individuals may learn more than they would in the workplace. They may also gain access to opportunities to lead that they would not have otherwise.

Furthermore, individuals whose careers unfold across different organizations often use business school courses as a way to expand their opportunities and facilitate transitions, relying on the communities that form there for direction and support. Whether because they orient students to the world of work, provide them a safe haven amidst uncertain and turbulent workplaces, or present them with chances to accelerate or reorient unfolding careers, business schools are powerful socializing agents. They often prescribe, more or less intentionally, what good leadership is and what it does—contributing to shape the pantheon of ideals that orients individuals’ aspirations and efforts. This makes it all the more important to examine how they shape both individual leaders and the meaning of leadership.

We are less concerned with whether business schools can or cannot develop “leaders.” Leaders are not the finished product of any single institution. Learning for leadership lasts a lifetime. The question instead is how business schools best contribute their students’ ongoing development as leaders. That means asking how to help them acquire knowledge and skills; stimulate personal reflection and clarification; facilitate understanding of, and connection with, communities that may affect and be affected by their leadership; and, most importantly, reinforce the habit of lifelong learning.

The Academy of Management Learning and Education has published numerous articles focused on how business school programs develop leaders—and how they could do it better. This selection, inevitably subjective, includes articles that revisit the social function of business schools as developers of leaders; offers suggestions for curricular reform and innovation; test the effectiveness of specific pedagogies or drawn lessons from them. Some are conceptual, others are empirical. They showcase the breadth of approaches that are currently employed or could be employed to develop leaders. Their lessons are useful to anyone who is fascinated by, and involved in, the complex endeavor of developing mindful, effective and responsible leaders.

Virtual Collection Co-Editors: Gianpiero Petriglieri, INSEAD and D. Scott DeRue, University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Business Schools and the work of developing leaders

These articles address the role that business schools play in the long-term development of leaders, suggesting that being more deliberate and focused on leadership development requires revisiting traditional views of students’ expectations, curricula and pedagogies.

Benjamin, B., & O'Reilly, C. 2011. Becoming a leader: Early career challenges faced by MBA graduates. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(3): 452-472.

Doh, J. P. 2003. Can leadership be taught? Perspectives from management educators. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2(1): 54-67.

Mintzberg, H. & Gosling, J. 2002. Educating managers beyond borders. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 1(1): 64-76.

Petriglieri, G. & Petriglieri, J.L. 2010. Identity workspaces: The case of business schools. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9(1): 44-60.

Developing personal foundations

These articles address the development of the personal foundations of leadership—the abilities to be mindful of and work with one’s history, ambitions, idiosyncrasies and personal experience.

Boyatzis, R. E., Smith, M. L., & Blaize, N. 2006. Developing sustainable leaders through coaching and compassion. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(1): 8-24.

Kaiser, R.B. & Kaplan, R.B. 2006. The deeper work of executive development: Outgrowing sensitivities. Academy of Management Learning & Education,
5(4): 463-483.

Petriglieri, G., Wood, J. D., & Petriglieri, J. L. 2011. Up close and personal: Building foundations for leaders' development through the personalization of management learning. Academy of Management Learning & Education,
10(3): 430-450.

Lester, P. B., Hannah, S. T., Harms, P. D., Vogelgesang, G. R., & Avolio, B. J. 2011. Mentoring impact on leader efficacy development: A field experiment. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(3): 409-429.

Developing knowledge and skills

These articles report on courses that focus on the development of leaders’ cognitive, emotional and behavioral competencies.

Antonakis, J., Fenley, M., & Liechti, S. U. E. 2011. Can charisma be taught? Tests of two Interventions. Academy of Management Learning & Education,
10(3): 374-396.

Boyatzis, R.E., Stubbs, Elizabeth, C. & Taylor, S.N. 2002. Learning cognitive and emotional intelligence competencies through graduate management education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 1(2): 150-162.

Cook, J. R., Sutton, L., & Useem, M. 2005. Developing leaders for decision making under stress: Wildland firefighters in the South Canyon fire and its aftermath. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4(4): 461-485.

Schyns, B., Kiefer, T., Kerschreiter, R., & Tymon, A. 2011. Teaching implicit leadership theories to develop leaders and leadership: How and why it can make a difference. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(3): 397-408.

Developing social awareness and connections

These articles focus on expanding leaders’ awareness and ability to work in different contexts and cultures through facilitated learning based on projects, service opportunities, and community engagement.

Ng, K. Y., Van Dyne, L., & Ang, S. 2009. From experience to experiential learning: Cultural intelligence as a learning capability for global leader development. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 8(4): 511-526.

Mirvis, P. 2008. Executive development through consciousness-raising experiences. Academy of Management Learning & Education,
7(2): 173-188.

Raelin, J. 2006. Does Action Learning promote collaborative leadership? Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(2): 152-168.

Pless, N. M., Maak, T., & Stahl, G. K. 2011. Developing responsible global leaders through international service-learning programs: The Ulysses experience. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(2): 237-260.

Developing leadership education (and educators)

These articles address ways in which business schools assumptions, syllabi and methods can be revisited and expanded to enhance the curricular and co-curricular opportunities for leaders’ development.

Adler, N.J. 2006. The arts and leadership: Now that we can do anything, what will we do? Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(4): 486-499.

De Vries, M. K., & Korotov, K. 2007. Creating transformational executive education programs. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6(3): 375-387.

Ely, R. J., Ibarra, H., & Kolb, D. M. 2011. Taking gender into account: Theory and design for women's leadership development programs. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(3): 474-493.

Kark, R. 2011. Games managers play: Play as a form of leadership development. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(3): 507-527.

Perspectives on leading and learning to lead

These interviews with leaders in academia, sports and business offer a fascinating array of perspectives for educators and students alike on what makes a leader, and how leaders are made.

Sitkin, S. B., & Hackman, J. R. 2011. Developing team leadership: An interview with coach Mike Krzyzewski. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(3): 494-501.

Podolny, J.M. 2011. A conversation with James G. March on learning about leadership. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10(3): 502-506.

Henle, C.A. 2006. Bad apples or bad barrels? A former CEO discusses the interplay of person and situation with implications for business education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(3): 346-355.

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