Business schools need to produce leaders for the many, not the few, says Ken Starkey, a professor at Nottingham University Business School
WHAT are the three hardest words for a business leader to speak? Probably “I don’t know”. Business leaders are encouraged to exhibit confidence, competence and omniscience. But this leads to only two possible outcomes. They can fake it: pretend that they are right because they know that the admission of uncertainty and weakness is a career killer. Or they can believe their own hype, convinced that they are right and know better than everybody else.
This is where we now stand. A model has evolved whereby the leaders of business and finance, abetted by an elite group of economists, have convinced themselves that only they know the way the world should work.
However, we are at a tipping point. Nitin Nohria, the new dean of Harvard Business School, argues that we need leaders who demonstrate moral humility. I believe that we need an approach to leadership in which the starting point is our lack of knowledge, a frank admission that we do not know very much about how to build a sustainable system for business and society.
In this humility-driven vision of leadership, business schools need to shift their centre of gravity away from economics, finance and dreams of individual fortune. We need to teach future leaders to reflect and critique—that there are alternatives to theories that they accept, without question, because they speak to their self-interest.
To do this, business schools need to challenge their own orthodoxy—a crude Darwinian view of business and society rooted in the survival of the fittest. They need to focus on the social consequences of their actions and accept responsibility for the business excesses of recent years. What is required is a narrative of common interest to combat the mantra of selfishness; one that appeals to the sense that leadership is for all not for the few.
-Ken Starkey: Professor of management and organisational learning at Nottingham University Business School