Since OUR EDITORIAL STAFF we have asked ourselves a question: what if the purpose of graduate management education is to create transformative leaders rather than to create managers? This question turns out to be one that many analysts, critics, and especially business school managers ask themselves. A priori, it may seem without much importance, but when we reflect on it, we realize the scope of it. But next, we have observed from our research that there is also another question that these leaders alluded to ask themselves: what if the purpose of education is to transform our students instead of teaching them knowledge and analytical skills? In other words, knowing that the goals were daunting and high, if only teaching is limited to transmitting said knowledge and skills, the real current academic challenge for a business school is to go for that transformative goal, which is neither more nor less than sowing the seeds of a new generation of leaders that will germinate in this key decade we are in, facing the 2030 horizon and beyond.
Therefore, so that from OUR EDITORIAL STAFF we give a useful overview to our readers, we are going to reply to an article that appeared in the “Journal of Leadership Education” published in April 2020 with the signature of Kenneth S. Rhee, from Nazareth College and Tracey Honeycutt Sigler, The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, whose title is “Transforming Graduate Education: Developing Leaders for the 21st Century”, which it has allowed us to explore (thanks to this doctrinal article) a bit the current panorama of graduate management education. We have reviewed several contributions, but this one has seemed the most successful, due to its clarity and simplicity. This makes it easier for us to identify the trends that predominate in the graduate education market, which is that the most dominant programs in graduate management education continue to be MBA programs.
For this reason, Kenneth S. Rhee, and Tracey Honeycutt Sigler affirm that “the MBA program has existed for more than 100 years: in 1908, Harvard University formally opened its Graduate School of Business Administration (Harvard Business School History, 2018 ), and the popularity of the MBA program has been increasing since the 1980s ”. And they go on to say that “in 2014, global MBA programs received more than 250,000 applications and more than 100,000 degrees were awarded. In 2016, there were 786 AACSB-accredited schools worldwide, of which 541 were based in the United States or Canada (AACSB Data Guide, 2017). This was almost an increase of more than 50% from 341 accredited programs in the United States or Canada in 16 years since 2000 ”.
These authors argue that the path to such an increase in popularity has not been easy, as most MBA programs were originally designed to provide future managers with managerial skills. And if we take into account that from the very name of the program that uses the word “management” in the title, it is quite eloquent that Harvard’s decision to name it business administration already attested to this point in reference to analytical skills for that they could apply rational management principles once embarked on their careers. But it is also true, as the authors attest, that such design principles could have been appropriate in turn-of-the-century manufacturing environments (referring to the 19th to 20th shift) where organizations were most interested in increasing control and organizational efficiency, a circumstance that has taken a turn of more than 360 degrees because we are no longer in that “stable and predictable business environment”. There is no doubt that the current environment in which organizations operate is radically different from that time of the beginnings of series production, since the economy has gone from factories to one of knowledge / services, and with this change “the nature of work is more dynamic and organic.” Kenneth S. Rhee, and Tracey Honeycutt Sigler say that in addition, “the business environment has gone from being stable and predictable to one that is full of disruptive and accelerating change due to technological innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) and changing global”.
For this reason, all trainers in the field of graduate business education have been asking for a change in the MBA curriculum for years.
“In 1988, Porter and McKibben published an article criticizing MBA programs for focusing too much on analytical skills and not enough on non-analytical skills that employers looked for in MBA graduates. There have been other criticisms, including lack of leadership development, lack of adaptability, etc. ”
MBA programs haven’t stopped
MBA programs have not stood still and have tried to change to address some of the criticism. Most of the changes that MBA programs have implemented have been incremental or evolutionary, and while these changes are moving in the right direction, they have not mitigated criticism of the programs. In other words, such cosmetic changes have not been enough to address criticism of MBA programs.
Kenneth S. Rhee and Tracey Honeycutt Sigler warn of an extremely important issue, which refers to the fact that a review of the management education landscape leads to the conclusion that the way in which programs are designed and implemented must be drastically changed graduate program in business “if we wish to achieve our own goals of transforming our students into leaders who can meet the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century.”
Design a transformational graduate program
How is a graduate management program designed and built? It is easy to criticize and point out what is wrong, but it is often more difficult to change and correct it. Where do you start the process?
Kenneth S. Rhee, and Tracey Honeycutt Sigler proceeded as follows in their investigation:
- a) They compared existing MBA and leadership programs, conducting focus groups and surveys, and had many internal conversations.
- b) The more they explored, the more they realized that incremental or evolutionary changes were not enough to achieve the necessary transformation that is sought for graduate studies.
- c) The most decisive feedback came when they were told by stakeholders in the community in which they were conducting the study that they did not need another EMBA or traditional HR graduate program in the region. Hence, reinforced the position of the authors by these comments, a door was opened regarding that they needed to change the direction towards a different path, so they embarked on a journey to create an innovative program.
So out of these efforts emerged the M.S. in Executive Leadership and Organizational Change (ELOC). The ELOC Master’s Program is a 2-year program that is geared toward working professionals and managers, meeting one weekend a month (Saturday and Sunday). Each group consists of a maximum of 25 students from various industries and disciplines. They are organized into teams for the duration of the program, and the first-year teams reorganize in the second year to provide the context for change. The program culminates with a two-week international experience in Asia (Korea, Japan, and China), a class project on a topic of your choice, and individual graduation projects.
This program is based on an aspect of leadership that has been given a lot of importance in the last five years, which is transformational leadership. Moreover, it is not only considered a key part of ad-hoc leadership programs in specific training courses in managerial skills and the ability to lead people, but also in the curricular components of the subjects that cover leadership issues in any MBA. In this authors’ program, transformational leadership begins with self-transformation, where students have the opportunity to learn more about themselves to increase their self-awareness and create a personal vision for individual change. Students participate in their planned action steps to achieve their personal vision during the 2-year program. The emphasis on experiential and action-based learning as well as teamwork in the program also provides students with ample opportunities to develop their empathy and influencing competencies and also to engage in peer coaching to practice the development of team members. Additionally, the emphasis on organizational change provides students with additional opportunities to learn the art of influence and the process of organizational transformation.
An interesting aspect of this program is that the students also participate in an internship in the public sphere to apply their learning in transformational leadership in order to help non-profit organizations. Notably, the intellectual and conceptual framework on global leadership and sustainability provides the context for students to learn how leaders can transform their thinking to create a new global vision for business and sustainability.
The transformation becomes part of the vision of the leader, more than of those managerial skills and knowledge that undoubtedly must also be acquired. Because the transformation points more to a question of behavior, of how one fits into the environment, so the study plan that the authors have designed aims to integrate four different levels of transformation: oneself (the person at the individual level ), the team, the organization and the global environment.
To do this, students carry out monthly reflection assignments in which they try to make sense of their experience so that they can put their learning into practice in the future. This requires a clear methodology in which there is interaction with instructors in the classroom, during individual discussions, and through feedback on reflection papers and other work.
Through this process emotions are combined with experiences, taking into account that student teams are a great source of support and assistance to make sense of their experience both individually and in groups, both inside and outside the class, in their work and in his personal life. Because transformation is the integration of a whole, from knowledge to the ability to transform into potential leaders. Thus, students become systems of mutual support in all aspects of life. Finally, the culture of the program (the philosophy of curricular content) fosters a focus on learning about performance, so that students enter into the practice of reflecting on and making sense of their experiences. In other words, the application of knowledge and the feedback that is obtained from it. Because this feedback mechanism makes students obtain knowledge of their experiences not only from the study and, of course, from the reflection they make, because receiving inputs and being attentive to the observations that are generated from the information received and the shared experience, it is an interesting way to share the development of other students who are also exchanging experiences and knowledge. They come to recognize that they need to change in order to become more emotionally intelligent and to become more effective leaders. They come to understand what and how they need to change, and they fulfill the commitment they made by joining the program to develop as leaders.
Finally, they take their learning and development and translate it into practice both on the job and in their non-work lives. They immediately implement their learning on the job, sometimes as early as the day after a class meeting. During the program, students complete projects for their own organizations as they learn and apply leadership concepts and theories. They apply their learning in their own ELOC teams as they learn how to work together effectively to complete projects, provide feedback, support each other, and engage in constructive conflict. As they progress through the program, many students share how they are using their newly developed and enhanced emotional intelligence with family and friends in their non-work lives.
The ELOC program incorporates this transformational learning theory into program design with very specific design guidelines. In fact, these design guidelines became the core values for Kenneth S. Rhee and Tracey Honeycutt Sigler’s graduate program. What quickly became apparent is that the radical departure from some of these design principles from typical and normal graduate management programs meant that the authors had to rethink the basic structure and execution of the program. In other words, they knew that a paradigm shift had to be made from the structure of more traditional academic programs to incorporate our values and integrate design principles into a successful program.