Preparing Leaders for the Business Challenges of Tomorrow – What does the future of management education look like?

Keith Cox Strategy, Sustainability

I was going through the September issue of the Academy of Management’s Learning & Education Journal as it was a special issue on sustainability in management education. There were some fascinating articles that point to some new trends in the way we educate and prepare tomorrow’s leaders to address some of the complex challenges they will face in the years to come. I thought I would share some of the key ideas that I found most interesting.

The first was not just to teach students tools, techniques, concepts and analytical skills, but to also help the student develop a passion for the field, in this case sustainability. The author describes that the way to do this includes: providing the student with real-world projects; leveraging holistic, interdisciplinary, action-learning; building in physical activities (e.g., Tai Chi) into the curriculum; and presenting opportunities for emotional and spiritual development. These creative alternatives combined with more traditional approaches can create excitement and enthusiasm in the student that deepens commitment to the subject matter at hand.

In another article the authors discuss shifting graduate mindsets from “we know all there is to know” to a more questioning and continual learning focus of “what else can we discover.” Some of the principles that should be guiding schools and their curricula to bring forth this paradigm shift were: embrace systems thinking; conduct research relevant to practicing managers; and to commit to and reward interdisciplinary teaching and research. It was noted that these changes represent a radical shift for many business schools and the authors point out that many of these schools are simply content with the status quo.

Yet there are some innovative programs that have embraced the changes needed to make business education more relevant and ready to meet the extraordinary, complex issues facing society today. These schools understand business can be a driver of not just financial prosperity, but social and environmental prosperity as well.

Take for example  Benedictine  University’s Ph.D./D.B.A. program in Values-Driven Leadership. Developed based on research into the world’s 75 top Ph.D. and DBA programs, Benedictine’s degree “equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to lead effectively at four levels: personally, interpersonally, organizationally, and strategically at the intersection of business and society.” The program embodies many of the aforementioned innovative educational practices such as: learning from interdisciplinary, global thought leaders; engaging in research germane to today’s business challenges; peer-to-peer learning with fellow senior leaders; traveling to different parts of the world to engage in high quality learning exchanges; focusing on positive, strength based change approaches; and a scholar/practitioner format targeted at senior leaders facing real world issues. This combination of learning methods engages the students from day one, gives them access to the leading thinkers, and allows them to research and practice what they learn in real time. It is a revolutionary approach.

In the end, business must be a key part of the solutions needed to create a more sustainable solution and for that to happen business schools must develop tomorrow’s leaders capable of leading that charge. This will call for not only a paradigm shift in what is taught, but how it is taught. Benedictine University’s Ph.D. What an exciting time to be a student!

For more details on the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, visit our web site, www.cvdl.org.