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I. Education and Experience
In my previous six blogs I focused on three different styles of premodern leadership that have appeared in similar form in many different models of leadership and in conjunction with premodern social systems. In the six upcoming blogs I will provide a description of each of these leadership styles as they appear in modern societies. In each instance, the role of leader merges with that of manager. The successful leader, in other words, is a success manager—and management can be taught and managers can be created. Managers operating in modern organizations are not born into greatness nor do they necessarily need external forces (such as enemies) or auspicious circumstances (an appropriate vision at the right time and place) to be successful. They are “manufactured” in standardized formats—much like the products and services created by the organizations they manage.
I begin in this blog and the next blog with the modern version of the first leadership style. In its premodern form, this leadership style focuses on wisdom. In its modern form this style focuses on the role of the leader/manager in SHARING THE WISDOM with other members of the organization. This sharing of wisdom is engaged through effective delegation and supervision, through teaching and through mentoring. When a modern manager delegates, he or she is essentially “educating” the person being supervised regarding the job he or she is to perform. Supposedly, the manager knows more about the job to be performed than does the subordinate. The manager assigns specific tasks to the subordinate, in part because the subordinate is not as knowledgeable (at least initially) about the tasks to be done in order to achieve specific objectives. As in the case of the premodern leader, the issue of subordinate maturation and experience often arises: at some point the subordinate may very well know more about the tasks to be performed than does the manager. Under these conditions, the subordinate either passively accepts the manager’s orders (even though these orders are not always correct, appropriate or maximally efficient) or offers some alternative suggestions. Hopefully, the latter option is viable—though all-too-often we witness the subordinate grumbling about the foolish or stupid “jerk” who is serving as manager.
Similarly, in the case of manager as trainer and mentor, the modern version of wise leader is engaged. We assume, once again, that the manager is more experienced and skillful than the subordinate and that the primarily goal of the manager is to share this wisdom. In some cases, teaching and mentoring is quite explicit. I have worked with (and greatly admire) one leader/manager who defines his primarily role in the organization as that of teacher and mentor. He believes that he is doing a good job when he has made himself dispensable by teaching and mentoring his new hires. Unlike the threatened modern manager, this highly experienced leader/manager has no problem with succession planning—he is constantly in the business of building capacity in his staff. Wouldn’t it be a joy if we could speak similarly about all modern managers!
Educated for Management
What about education of the managers—those who are assumed to be “wise”? Obviously, not all education of managers comes through their interactions with a gifted, experienced and caring leader. Much of what modern managers learn comes from the management development program they took as young men and women or from the ongoing management education they receive as aspiring leaders in an organization. During the 20th Century, management education was one of the major growth industries in North American colleges and universities. The whole notion of management education and degrees in management didn’t even exist prior to the 20th Century. Management education only emerged when “management” was identified as something that can be taught and as something that some people do as a “livelihood” (rather than being an addition to their other duties in the organization—such as “running the place”).
It has also become clear that a manager doesn’t have to receive her degree from a high-pedigree university in order to be a successful manager. In fact, many management program (undergraduate and graduate) are conducted by schools that are very low on the higher education totem-poll. These are institutions that primarily serve matured men and women rather than young adults. The University of Phoenix and National University come immediately to mind when identifying “convenient” institutions that serve working adults by teaching about management. These institutions are often primarily supported through tuition revenues paid by corporations that assign value to this form of education for their employees. These management education programs not only provide an education to the up-and-coming managers but also serve as an incentive or benefit that attracts and retains promising employees.
I identified a bit of irony in an earlier blog with regard to premodern leadership training and education. Prestigious education has rarely been directly devoted to the acquisition of leadership skills—usually because an assumption is made that leadership can’t be taught. The prevalent premodern assumption is that only character, discipline, and broad-based knowledge can (perhaps) be taught or inculcated. It is quite a different story with regard to modern management education. It is assumed that management can be taught—though it is interesting to note that very little data actually have been accumulated regarding the improvement of management following completion of an MBA program. Perhaps, it is the perception of support for management development that is critical—not the actually acquisition of knowledge and skills that are applicable to the daily challenges of contemporary management.
Leadership, Experience and Education
I mentioned with regard to premodern leadership that a man or woman does not have to be formally educated and prepared to become a leader. The premodern leader may attain this status as a result of substantial experience in the field or organization. This assumption does not seem to hold true in most modern organizations. Managers are expected to obtain (or at least work on) an MBA if they are to advance in the organization. I have recently worked with one organization that actually expects their managers to obtain a second or even a third MBA degree in order to “keep up” with contemporary management practices. The head of HR in another international corporation with which I work estimates that a mid-manager who works in her organization throughout their career will obtain the equivalent to seven MBAs by the time they retire—this seven MBAs being comprised of not only degree programs but also management development programs being conducted inside her organization.
This HR leader admits that there is little data to support the claim that these seven MBAs produce better managers than a lifetime of managerial experience. Furthermore, she is the first to admit that the informal mentoring and the formal delegation and supervision that occurs in the “trenches” often provides an employee with more and better training and education than the seven MBA programs. But she isn’t about to admit this to her own bosses, given that they are directing substantial funding to her in-house management development programs and to full or partial reimbursement of tuition payments for external management education programs.
In my earlier blog concerning Style One premodern leadership I asked: what kind of experience seems to be important? To end this blog I will ask a comparable question regarding modern leadership and management: what kind of ongoing education and training really makes a difference in the performance of leader/managers in modern organizations? Are there other ways in which wisdom can be effectively shared? What about coupling management education with mentoring and with organizational coaching? How does career counseling and how do career ladders enhance (or block) effective management development? These are questions to be addressed in future blogs. In the next blog I provide a brief description of the challenges which a modern leader/manager of wisdom faces—especially in a postmodern world.