Creating rounded managers for a global society
To reach the heights of management excellence requires discipline and hard work. It is not achieved simply through the passage of time.
Nevertheless, universities and business schools can help lay the foundations for this process by providing a more integrated and rounded education to current and future managers.
The extreme specialisation developed in universities in the past has been criticised because of its undesirable consequence, namely ‘silo syndrome’, whereby academics deal only with colleagues in their subject and students gain only narrow perspectives on practical and theoretical knowledge.
Universities can combat this by restoring the value of the humanities in the tradition of American liberal arts colleges. Making the humanities a core part of all degrees will cement the learning experience and develop open-minded and well-rounded graduates.
I also believe that good management is not just about implementing good managerial techniques. It is about leading people, understanding collective behaviour and developing a strategic vision.
These managerial skills are genuinely related to the humanities, which is why I support the integration of different management disciplines within the context of the social sciences and the humanities.
Our experience at IE University shows that including humanities courses in management programmes enhances the whole learning experience. We have introduced subjects and sessions dedicated to the humanities in all programmes, from the bachelor in business to the MBA programme and executive education.
Ours is a two-pronged goal. On the one hand we hope to include management studies within the broad spectrum of the social and human sciences, with the aim of highlighting the inter-connectedness of the models, concepts and theories of a range of disciplines, thus leading to a better understanding of the social role of business.
The aim is also to create well-rounded managers – enlightened and cultivated directors who have a working knowledge of the arts and history of their own and other cultures, thus better enabling them to lead multicultural teams.
We believe that studying history enables directors to take better business decisions based on an understanding of the experiences of the past. Similarly, an understanding of the history of art can strengthen students' powers of observation and perception, which in turn enables them to take more reflective or considered decisions, thereby offering a counterbalance to the action-oriented approach of most directors.
In addition to revisiting the role of humanities in management programmes, we need to find new ways of identifying talent that go beyond conventional forms of intelligence.
One of our biggest challenges for the future is to come up with alternative ways of identifying diverse talent, and consequently developing the means to bring out the best in students. This will significantly expand the pool of potential applicants to business schools and other higher education institutions while helping these centres identify the candidates that are right for them.
Moreover, we need to develop new teaching methodologies and approaches to learning that bring out the entrepreneurial and innovation skills of management students, along with their interpersonal and leadership skills.
This is without doubt the next major challenge with regard to teaching in business schools, and in order to meet it we will have to work closely with educationists and psychologists. Such an approach will also have a tremendous impact on our students and on management in general.
First, it will amplify the pool and profile of potential applicants to business school programmes, attracting those entrepreneurial candidates who were previously reluctant to start along or quick to exit the academic path. But second, and most importantly, it will make management programmes become transformational experiences suited to each student's specific form of intelligence.
Opening up the curriculum to the humanities while developing new teaching methods for identifying individual aptitudes presents promising new horizons.
I believe that the changes outlined here are essential not only for the future relevance of business schools, but also for business graduates who look forward to becoming entrepreneurs or to joining the current challenging jobs market.
* Santiago Iñiguez is president at IE University and dean of the IE Business School in Madrid. His last book, The Learning Curve: How business schools are re-inventing education (Palgrave, 2011), explains the changes being undertaken in the sector worldwide. This article is based on a presentation he gave at the “Going Global” conference earlier this month.