Building a better business leader

September 3, 2013 | Hamilton, Ontario
Contributed by Leonard Waverman, Dean, DeGroote School of Business

473r-leonard-waverman-2012_ppThe question of how to “fix” capitalism is a recurring discussion in boardrooms and governments around the world. While answers explore how to fix, rejuvenate and reinvent our corporations, few of these discussions focus on the need to change the learning and thinking that inform most decisions made by managers today. None focus on the need to change or modify what today’s future managers are learning or being taught. None focus on the need to change business school education.

Yes, business schools today educate great leaders, teach critical thinking and problem solving, and equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to go out and succeed in the world. But while students go out into a world that is dynamic, the institution stays in one place, becoming musty and stagnant.

What is wrong with business schools is essentially what is wrong with any organization that neglects to adapt or reinvent itself every few years.

We don’t need a new form of business school, but we do need to re-align that form to fit with the functions – and requirements – of today’s dynamic business environments. Below I offer several suggestions on how that can be done.

Emphasize the value of experiential learning and add it to curricula.

Business education should be about learning how to think and how to implement and execute. Students need to master the skills they learn in the classroom by applying their knowledge. Through co-op work terms, competitions and consulting projects, they learn how to make real-time decisions and how to implement a strategy and execute it.
DeGroote has a long history of this through our MBA co-op and B. Com internship programs, and now we are putting more support behind other experiential learning opportunities. All business schools, DeGroote included, should support experiential learning and make it pervasive across their programs.

Make curricula more comprehensive and multi-disciplinary.

The business environment is very complex. There is not a right or wrong solution to most problems. Leaders must be more nuanced and take an enterprise-wide and multi-disciplinary approach to decisions.

This means that while they’re in business school, we must help our students to be well-rounded and educate them about the ways of the world, not just the ways of business. Communications skills, ethics, governance, entrepreneurial thinking and knowledge of digital innovation management are must-haves for business graduates these days.

Walk the talk when it comes to innovation.

Business schools are not entities to themselves, walled off from industry, other universities and advances in the corporate world. Packaged goods companies and technology giants have embraced open sourcing. Why not business schools? Rather than competing, we should be collaborating.

By being more connected, we will be better able to recognize important developments “out there,” for example, developing and offering programs in “Big Data” or analytics.

Embrace new technology and delivery platforms.

As disruptive as technological advances can be to business and to education, they have also made vast contributions. Online courses provide flexibility for managers to pursue education and upgrade their skills no matter where they are. MOOCs allow more students to enroll in university.

We cannot afford to be complacent about technology. Online learning, other delivery platforms and technology are here to stay. We must incorporate them into business schools in a way that aids in teaching future business leaders.

DeGroote has recently begun the process of revamping our undergraduate and MBA programs. For our core educational offerings and new initiatives that are being proposed, we are following these tenets I’ve listed and others. Business schools are educating future leaders. It is our responsibility to ensure that these leaders are able to build on those who have come before them and are better equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

To DeGroote alumni, business professionals, scholars, learners and stakeholders, I welcome your input on future directions for DeGroote. What is lacking in today’s business leaders? What is one lesson all business schools should teach? Please share your ideas.

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