Developing good managers

Steve Jones ( VoiceOfTheDBA , @way0utwest )posted an article today about better bosses needed which inspired me to write an extended version of the comment I made.

MBA programs have received a lot of criticism in recent years given that the GFC was essentially an MBA led recession.
There has been significant push back from particular student groups, e.g. Harvard business students to develop an MBA “Oath” somewhat like the hippocratic oath to try and govern the way managers behave and turn “management” into a profession.
My own recent experiences with the MBA are that professors are taking a deep interest in this and trying to turn out graduates who behave with integrity and humanity rather that being cold and calculating like the managers we’ve all experienced, simultaneously minimizing your salary and maximizing their bonus.
The key takeaway for me was that as a manager you will inevitably be called upon to do nasty deeds. That in itself is not the key, what is important is how you behave about it and to always ensure you treat people with dignity.
Tony Hayward, the ex BP CEO, after the Oil Rig catastrophe famously said that he wanted “his life back”. Right there is an example of how not to behave.
I’m encouraged by the universities assuming responsibility for the type of managers they are churning out, but also dismayed by some of the students I’ve collaborated with who are clearly in it for the money. Hopefully increased accountability will make a difference.

I’ve been particularly encouraged by the work of professors like Dr Walter Jarvis who has fought hard against the tide of traditional MBA programme directives to enforce exactly that type of humanistic approach with a Kantian “people are ends in themselves rather than means to an end” philosophy. This recent article by Dr Jarvis is a case in point. Toyota may well have had no choice but to close their plant and make 350 people redundant, but did they really need to be escorted from the premises by security guards? Dr Jarvis touches on the notion of “undeserved harm” which is certainly worth reading about. Dr Jarvis’s doctoral dissertation on “Moral Accountability in the MBA: A Kantian response to a public problem” is a timely and highly relevant response to the corporate corruption epidemic we’ve seen in the last decade. I only have to mention companies like Enron or in Australia companies like HIH and you will know what I mean.

Managers have an important role to carry out and it’s inevitable that they will be well paid, but that shouldn’t be the primary goal and motivator and certainly doesn’t grant a license to treat people like crap and be a complete asshole. Quite the opposite should be true. The best leaders are selfless, not heroes or villains, and work for their people not for themselves. Unfortunately politics often gets in the way. The positive is that the way we develop managers is changing. I’ve been lucky enough to experience that first hand and be presented with challenging questions that wouldn’t have seen the light of day 10 years ago. Finance & Marketing are still important but they are no longer regarded as the end of the story for managers.

Good managers have always know that their people are important without just paying lipservice to the idea.

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