Are business schools really the best place to learn management?

'Conventional MBA programmes train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences,' wrote Henry Mintzberg in the classic tome, Managers not MBAs.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 07 Jun 2017

No one has done more to remove the bogus mystique surrounding self-styled elite business school graduates than Henry Mintzberg. His long-established, strongly held views are based on observation and critical intelligence. You can learn a lot of useful stuff at business school, of course - but you don't learn how to be a manager, which is a practical skill best studied in the context of real-ife situations.

This is the thrust of his 2005 publication Managers not MBAs, which drew together the lessons of his academic research with his experience of teaching and working with managers over the course of several decades.

'Considered as education for management, conventional MBA programmes train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences,' Mintzberg writes. But apart from that...

The biggest problem perhaps has to do with attitude and the ethos of aspiring Masters of the Universe. Good managers are committed to their teams. But elite MBA students may see themselves as a class apart.

'MBA programmes may be inadvertently encouraging an attitude of independence that is fundamentally antithetical to the responsible practice of management,' Mintzberg says. We may not have realised it at the time, but this book, written just before the financial crisis hit, exposed the sort of arrogant thinking that helped bring it about.

Stefan Stern is visiting professor at Cass Business School.

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