Commentary

Management Can Only Be Learned . . .

A colleague and friend of mine, Stig Ehnbom, who has dedicated himself to the advancement of management in New Zealand and Australia for many decades, recently drew my attention to an interesting article by Richard Barker, a Professor at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, published in the HBR July-August 2010 edition.

Stig extracted ten main points from the article with which he was in agreement and circulated them for review. I’m reproducing them here with a personal comment on each one;

  1. "the manager is a jack-of-all-trades and master of none - the antithesis of the professional” This is so true; a manager rarely has the luxury of time to invest in becoming an expert on anything other than getting things done.

  2. "The requirements of managers are attributes rather than skills. They can probably be learned, especially in a business school environment, but it is not obvious that they can be taught, which is what would be expected from a professional school” A manager faces so many different manifestations of ongoing reality and is forced to ‘wing it’ most of the time; there are very few ‘best’ or right answers to a manager’s challenges.

  3. "The skill on integration is at the heart of why business education should differ from professional education” Putting it all together in real time is the essence of success for a manager whereas the specialist accrues mastery by taking things apart so to better understand them.
  4. "The key here is to recognize that integration is not taught but learned”. Trial and error and learning from experience as you go are the key actions in gaining substantial progress and attaining results.
  5. "the alumni valued the learning environment above the curriculum itself”  It’s well recognized that there are fads in management, ideas that come and go continuously. It’s the joy of learning-by-doing – sharing actions and discoveries through application – that bonds the student body
  6. "Thus it is vital that business schools understand themselves primarily as learning environments, where individuals develop attributes, rather than as teaching environments, where students are presented with a body of functional and technical content” Helping people to learn rather than teaching them is the preferred way – Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day . . .
  7. "Effective business education cannot be delivered exclusively on line” We all know from experience that we are social animals, dependent upon others for most of what benefits us; we absolutely need to interact as we grow
  8. . . .  a lifelong learning partner, not a one-stop certification shop. That is precisely what business education should be” Life-long learning is what life is all about; why would a social subject like management be separated from other central life experiences?
  9. "Thus we should not be surprised that an academic grading system cannot reliably predict managerial ability” No one believes that the brightest, most intelligent among us have to be put in charge and we all know too that understanding people is better than understanding ideas when results are needed.
  10. "First and foremost, business education should be collaborative. This goes much deeper than networking, the much-cited benefit of business schools” If we cannot learn to use the energies of others effectively, we’ll not get much done; people are all the leverage we need for outstanding results.

For the original article, please go to this web site.

Stig and I think the article was brilliant. What do you think?