Contemporary General Management Education: A Critique
Delivered at the meeting of
the International Academy of Management,
Atlanta, Georgia, 27th of September 2013
Ichak Kalderon Adizes Ph.D
Founder and Director of Professional Services
Adizes Institute, Santa Barbara, California
The following paper is based on forty years of consulting to corporations world wide, plus experience as a faculty member teaching at business schools at UCLA, Stanford, Columbia, Tel Aviv and Hebrew U, as well as giving visiting lectures in universities where I have been awarded fifteen honorary doctorates.
Based on my experience, it appears to me that management education is failing to train those women and men who are relied upon to integrate all functions of management i.e. general managers.
Management education today is focused almost exclusively on functional disciplines. The integration is left to the business school graduates who have to learn the ropes by themselves, on the firing line. Not easy. Not right either.
Furthermore, our focus in training and developing future leaders is on INDIVIDUALS and my experience is that such an individual who can perform all the relevant tasks does not and can not exist.
Our training is culturally biased in favor of individualism and competitiveness, rather than collaboration, which is what is needed.
We are not just failing in the United States and Europe. We are now spreading this failure worldwide by opening business schools wherever there appears to be a market, causing collateral socio-political damage.
1.0 The Role of Management
Before describing and analyzing where we are failing, let me first define what management (or leadership) is about, as I see it.
Business organizations are continuously experiencing change which is accelerating; New opportunities and threats that impact the organization are always emerging. They need to be addressed. The role of general management ( leadership) is to deal successfully with those opportunities and threats: make decisions and implement them.
1.1 Decision Making
We teach students, the future managers, how to make decisions all right. But the decision-making procedures we teach are mostly in functional areas: marketing, finance, human resources… Granted, general, integrative decisions, are addressed in strategic planning; however, there is more to general management decision-making than strategic planning.
General management has to make decisions that will enable the total organization to be run effectively (meet its purpose) and efficiently in the short and not only in the long run.
1.11 The Ideal Executive
General management requires someone who is strategically oriented and at the same time focused on detail; someone who is visionary, creative and at the same time a linear, logical thinker; someone sensitive to people, a team builder, and at the same time who focuses on producing immediate results…and manages by those results…
We know from experience, that we, humans, have strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect. No single man or woman possesses all the necessary personality traits, ie managerial style necessary for such managerial excellence. Experience tells us it is practically impossible to find and train someone, anyone, to provide this all-encompassing leadership. It is too much to ask. Such individuals exist only in textbooks.
The ideal executive we describe and try to develop in our training programs is an amalgam of the best traits of many people with different managerial styles. Such a person who has all the characteristics and qualities that the amalgam requires does not exist. People who worked closely with Jack Welsh or a Lee Iacocca, CEO’s who have been considered to be the poster executive of outstanding leadership, I suggest, will tell you the same story: they are not perfect. They do not possess all the qualities that are necessary for managing effectiveness and efficiency in the short and in the long run.
The mistake then is that we train individuals, so called leaders or entrepreneurs, and expect them to have all the traits necessary to manage organizations without fault.
1.12 Management as a complementary team
The managerial process requires a complementary team, a team composed of people with different, complementary styles.
Business schools do not teach students or trainees how to correctly compose teams. We do not teach which composition of styles are functional and which destructive.
Furthermore we do not teach how to effectively handle the conflict that necessarily and naturally emerges even when the team is composed of people with appropriate different managerial styles.
1.13 How we Handle Conflict
It bears repeating. Whenever there is a complementary team, necessarily, there will be conflict. It can be destructive, unless leaders know how to convert the destructive into constructive conflict.
I am not aware of courses at business schools on how to convert conflict from destructive to constructive action; in essence a course on collaborative leadership.
We teach conflict resolution all right. But conflict resolution removes conflict rather than harnesses it.
My experience with management education is that conflict is considered to be a negative rather than a natural phenomenon generated by change, which is constant.
When we negate conflict, because of its destructive potential, we halt change. We encourage bureaucracy. We need to harness conflict . Not delegitimize it
1.14 Behavioral Science: Substitute for General Management
Conflict resolution has been the area behavioral scientists tend to focus on. By and large behavioral science has replaced general management theory and practice in management education. My experience is that better understanding of human behavior does not necessarily mean that our graduates know how to collaborate and handle conflict constructively. Behavioral science, in my opinion, is phenomenological and not structural. Its proponents do not provide a systematic approach to the process of transforming conflicts into a positive force.
1.2 Implementation Training
Making good decisions is necessary, but not sufficient for managing well. Decisions that deal with change have also to be implemented.
Management education, as I have witnessed, does not teach much about implementation. It apparently assumes that if the decision is a good one, it will be implemented. And we know from experience that this simply is not true.
1.3 Training Staff not Line
As a result, we train people who can analyze situations, diagnose problems, and make outstanding presentations of what needs to be done. But we fail to teach them how to take the bull by the horns and complete the process by implementing decisions that will handle change.
By and large, business schools excel in training staff people: Report writers. Consultants. Investment bankers. Hedge fund managers. Not leaders, who know how to manage change within organizations, change that involves PEOPLE.
Teaching general management has for the most part disappeared from business school curricula. Case studies do resemble general management experience, but the theory is missing in this kind of training.
1.4 Biased Reward System
How did all of this happen? How did we depart from general management training?
In large part it relates to the values embedded in academia. To be promoted in the academic world one needs to publish. But there are no peer reviewed publications that I know of that will publish experience based papers in general managerial theory and practice. HBR, for instance, is not peer reviewed and thus does not count for academic promotion. Writing cases does not help promotion either. There are only a few universities that will recognize books based on the review of managerial practices as a valid proof of academic excellence that warrants promotion. And as I have already said, strategic planning, which is a part and parcel of general management, does not encompass all that is needed to be taught and known for general management.
By and large the requirements for promotion at business schools are to produce scientific papers mostly based on quantitative analysis.
The result is that the teaching faculty in business schools has been taken over on the one hand by behaviorists who publish scientific papers based on controlled experiments whose findings have remote application to real (business) life; and on the other by applied economists who rely on mathematics and computers to simulate reality, which again has limited application for general management.
General management deals with qualitative, fuzzy situations, and does not subject itself easily to quantitative “scientific “ research usually applied in the natural sciences. Over time those who were interested in general management failed to get promoted and the general management as such was removed from the curriculum for being too soft, too unscientific.
It is this over-insistence on quantitative based scientific research that has caused general management education to be substituted by behavioral science.
General management is partially an art; this fuzzy component of the managerial process has increasingly disappeared from business education.
Moreover, many business schools that want to be recognized for their academic excellence discourage their faculty from consulting. The result is that many business professors have very limited experience with real life business practices and processes and so teach what they know from books or journals they have read or knowledge they have gained from quantitative academic research studies. The world is far messier than what controlled experiments yield, and reporting the findings does not help in handling the complex and gritty reality general managers need to master.
1.5 Dysfunctional Profit Orientation
Not only have the behaviorists taken over management education, but often the remaining curricula are dominated by mathematicians and mathematically oriented economists.
What is wrong?
Economic theory promotes the idea that the goal of business is profits. It can be measured. It can be validated. And thus very elegant formulations of what should be done or not done by management can be published.
This profit orientation bias impacts general management education today. It makes profits and shareholder equity the banner that everyone has to follow.
True, there are courses on social responsibility and ethics. But, I would say, those courses are lipstick on a pig’s lips. I suggest their impact on the managerial behavior of recent graduates is minimal. Graduates of leading business schools today end up in Wall Street, in consulting firms, in hedge funds, where the religion is profits, led by computer based decision-making and mathematical formulations.
What is wrong with this?
In the unrestrained search for profits we are destroying our environment. That is what is wrong. And by managing with computers we are losing the people touch, which is essential for managing, for leading organizations well. They are composed of people, are they not?
1.51 Business Training as a Liability
In developed countries because of this greedy, obsessive, search for profits, business is viewed as a liability.
Socially conscious young people are flocking to work for NGOs. Not for business. And those who go into business are not necessarily at the top rung of society. Quite the opposite. Business is considered to be dirty endeavor.
Watch movies like Wall Street. Read opinion pieces in popular journals.
Businessmen are the thieves, greedy bastards, that need to be regulated. And thrown in jail.
1.6 Undermining Democracy
One of the ironies of it all is that on the one hand the USA sends its soldiers to fight and die for democracy. On the other hand business schools are promoting the opposite of democracy worldwide: They champion organizations managed by an elite that enriches itself without accountability to the people it leads.
In this way business schools have become incubators that nurture economic elites who gain political power and widen the socio-economic inequality in the nation in which they operate. This has socio-political repercussions that later have to be dealt with by military power in order to overcome revolutionary tendencies on the part of those who feel exploited.
2.0 Quo Vadis?
It is long past time for our business schools to do some soul-searching and to reconsider the premises on which their education programs and policies are based.
Published books by Ichak K. Adizes
(Most translated and published in 26 languages, English version available from Adizes Institute, www.Adizes.com):
1.Adizes, I., Industrial Democracy, Yugoslav Style, New York Free Press (1971)
2. Adizes, I. and Mann-Borgese, E. (Eds.), Self-Management: New Dimensions to Democracy,(Santa Barbara, California: ABC/CLIO (1975).
3. Adizes, I., How to Solve the Mismanagement Crisis, ( Homewood, Illinois: Dow Jones/Irwin (1979).
4. Adizes, I., Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What To Do About It, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 361 pp. (1988).
5. Adizes, I., Mastering Change (Santa Monica, CA: Adizes Institute Publications, 240 pp. (1991).
6. Adizes, I.: Managing Corporate Lifecycles: An updated and expanded look at the Corporate Lifecycles. ( Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall Press, 1999)
7. Adizes, I.: Pursuit of Prime, (Santa Monica, CA: Knowledge Exchange,
8. Adizes, I.: The Ideal Executive, Why You Cannot Be One and What to Do about It. ( Santa Barbara Cal Adizes Institute Publications, 2004.)
9. Adizes, I.: Management/Mismanagement Styles, How to Identify a Style and What to Do About It. Santa Barbara Cal: Adizes Institute Publications, 2004.)
10. Adizes, I.: Leading the Leaders, How to Enrich Your Style of Management and Handle People Whose Style is Different From Yours. (Santa Barbara Cal : Adizes Institute Publications, 2004.)
11. Adizes, I. How to Manage in Times Of Crisis. Santa Barbara Cal, Adizes Institute Publications, 2009.)
12. Adizes, I. Insights On Management . (Adizes Institute Publications, 2011)
13. Adizes, I. Insights On Policy . (Adizes Institute Publications, 2011)
14. Adizes, I. Insights On Personal Growth . (Adizes Institute Publications, 2011)
15. Adizes, I. Food for thought: On Management . (Adizes Institute Publications, 2013)
16. Adizes, I. Food for thought: On Change and Leadership . ( Adizes Institute Publications, 2013.)
17. Adizes, I. Food for thought: On What Counts in Life . (Adizes Institute Publications, 2013.)
About the Author:
Ichak Adizes was awarded his Ph.D from Columbia Business School . Was tenured by UCLA Graduate School of Management.
At present he is the President of a world wide consulting firm, The Adizes Institute, and is the founder and Chairman of the Board of the Adizes Graduate School for the Study of Change and Leadership. He serves as the academic advisor to the Russian Academy of Economics International Business School .
Dr Adizes was awarded sixteen honorary doctorates , and in recognition for his consulting service, two honorary citizenships and the honorary rank of lieutenant colonel from the Israeli Army.