The conventional distinction between managers and leaders, that managers organize to meet goals, while leaders set (new) goals, is rather artificial. In most organizations, no one can do only one or the other anymore. With managerial responsibilities comes the obligation to be looking for new and better ways of doing things, finding ways to inspire and not just control people, setting direction and not just meeting predetermined objectives. Unfortunately, too much of MBA education inadvertently prepares students for just the managerial side of their responsibilities. There’s plenty of talk about leadership and vision, but too much of what is taught is laden with techniques that lead to accepting surrounding conditions, choosing among predetermined alternatives, emphasizing application of formulas and not judgment.
Students are seldom taught to look at the outlying data, the interesting tails of distributions, the conditions that shape the numbers and allow for leverage, rather than bound “safe” decisions. The world needs entrepreneurial leaders, who see opportunities where others see problems, who find ways to get things done even when they do not control all the resources, who can push back on organizational restrictions and win support for innovations.
I welcome comments from anyone who is in an MBA program or has been in one, or hires and supervises MBAs. I’m fortunate to be the dean of MBA programs at Babson, where we try to encourage innovative, appropriate risk taking, but know that it isn’t easy to produce, even where we focus on it. Your experiences?