“Unhappy is the land that needs heroes”. So claims Henry Mintzberg, iconoclastic management guru at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. His echo of the characters in a Brecht play is a reflection on the current economic turmoil, and what he sees as the steps needed for recovery. “We don’t need so much heroic leadership, what we need is what I like to call community-ship. What we need to do is build up a sense of community around the world.”
Community for Mintzberg means caring about our work, our colleagues, and our place in the world. He respects companies like Pixar, whose highly popular animated films emerged from a film studio with a strong sense of community. And he admires effective managers such as the suburban Montreal car dealer who is on his feet all day, committed to what he describes as “engaging management.”
The outspoken professor reckons the country has been brought to its knees by decades of short-term management on Wall Street and the likes of Nortel and GM, who have inflated the importance of CEOs, and reduced others to a replaceable commodity. “The banks and other US corporations were managed by egocentrics who ran companies into the ground. Human resources are downsized at the drop of a share price. What a monumental failure of management.”
And so with his new book, “Managing”, due for publication later this month, Henry Mintzberg aims to restore management to its proper place: front and center. “We should be seeing managers as leaders,” he writes, “and leadership as management practiced well.” For his latest work, Mintzberg watched twenty-nine different managers for a day each, and whether in business or nonprofit, a refugee camp or an orchestra, he witnessed the unrelenting variety of tasks and interruptions that make up their jobs.
“Management is not a profession or a science”, he insists with characteristic conviction. “Management is a practice that depends on art, and that is learned by experience and rooted in context”. This book is Mintzberg’s attempt to capture, in one place, the essence of managing. He explains what it is that managers do, why they make a difference and how they become effective, and tries to make sense of what he sees as the world’s most important job.
And his work resonates with academics around the world. Bruce Stening, International Dean at Peking University and leading European business school, Vlerick Leuven Gent is adamant. “You’ve got to say that he’s spot on. His ideas about what managers do – and how they can perform better – put him in the top half dozen management thinkers of our time. He really does understand management.”
Mintzberg suggests that the place to look for the corporate community is among middle managers. “A significant number tend to be highly knowledgeable about the enterprise and deeply committed to its survival.” Out with the obscene compensation packages for CEOs, over-inflated job titles, and in with practices that promote trust and collaboration.
He’s clearly not one to mince his words. But unlike Galileo in the Brecht play, Mintzberg has never been brought to the Dean’s office for interrogation. Nor has he had to recant his teachings under threat of torture. In fact his teachings have been integrated into the learning experience at McGill’s Desautels, starting with the school’s partnership in the IMPM program, with which Mintzberg set out to transform the approach to management education. This is not an MBA, but a curriculum designed around the actual experiences and needs of the participating managers and their organizations. Participants move back and forth between management concepts and their real-life experiences, reflecting upon them individually and together.
Florette Guildford, Director of Management and Executive Development at Alcan feels that the IMPM offers the company something unique. “We were attracted by the concept of the IMPM, which focuses on the real-life practices and challenges of senior managers, as well as the mindsets that are required to meet these challenges.”
Desautels has demonstrated one of the qualities that Mintzberg holds up for good managers – being a good listener. The school has redesigned the MBA curriculum based upon the tradition of holistic approaches to management in its executive programs. “Integration is achieved through a unique set of core modules,” says Dean Peter Todd. “The goal is to have participants reflect on what success really means for them and what goals and responsibilities (personal, organizational, and societal) they will be assuming in the business world.”
This thinking is a tangible demonstration of what Henry Mintzberg developed as the ‘Reflection Process’. Time is set aside each week in which the students spend the time reflecting on what they have learned over the past week, how it all relates together, and what it means for them personally. It starts with a period of quiet individual reflection, in a journal form, they then share their insights in small groups, and then finally as a whole class. Associate Dean Dr. Omar Toulan points out that “the professor is just a moderator. It is really the students’ time to reflect on the learning process.”
These are bold steps, particularly when one of your prominent faculty has gone on the record to state that “business schools are in part to blame for the crisis, sending out egocentric maniacs not because they know anything, but because they think they can lead.”
So where are Desautels MBAs headed? Are they more likely to run a car dealership from the front, or hide all day behind spreadsheets, announcing the goals they wanted others to attain? Their story could be an interesting sequel.