Building Sustainable Legacies

Reflecting on the underlying paradigms in management education (2)

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Business education has been a victim of countless unconscious, un-reflected choices that have deeply affected what and how we teach business and management. If we want to make progress in developing reflective and responsible managers and leaders, we need to reflect on the underlying paradigms in management education. These debates have been conspicuously absent in the classroom. As a result, we have robbed our students – future business leaders – the chance to reflect on these crucial issues and to develop their own perspectives. These include the following:

Who do we educate?

We need to start by defining who such leaders will be, what positions they will occupy, where they will be needed most, and what competences, skills and attitudes they must possess. We should discuss if we best educate a limited elite or as many potential leaders as possible; if we should re-educate current leaders, emerging talent or today and tomorrow’s youth. And which “investment mix” would have the biggest positive impact. How do societal changes, gender issues and other relevant issues provide new requirements and voices to leadership issues[1]. As such, is it more important to ensure that every citizen assumes his and her personal responsibility for a common good or can such a burden continued to be left on the shoulders of a selected and elected few? How do we address the issue of individual vs. collective leadership? What is the importance of educating women, parents and minorities both for direct leadership as well as indirect role modelling in society’s smallest unit, the family and stomping ground of future leaders? Today, leaders with a general business and management knowledge are sought in domains far beyond “only” business. NGO’s, governments, not-for-profit organizations, small family business, start-up companies, independent consultants, schools (including business schools) all need to be managed more professionally and more effectively. Our client is no longer “just business” and it is no longer just business that we should be teaching.

A new wave of change is emerging just now: the 4 billion of people at the bottom of the pyramid – these people in developing and emerging countries who desperately need to know how to go about becoming effective actors for the world by providing products and services in their communities that are relevant for the society. Channelling these people’s desire into effective entrepreneurial thinking that is embedded in responsible and sustainable behaviour is the biggest emerging challenge in education world-wide. What is the role business schools can, should and must play in there?


[1]        In May 2011, the Swiss government voted for a controlled shut-down of its nuclear power plants over the next 20 years – of the seven elected ministers, the three men were overruled by the four women. The Swiss president, one of the four women, stated that such a decision came with a price and that new solutions needed to be invented to compensate for the loss of energy provided, however, that this was the only right decision to take for future generations.

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Author: Dr. Katrin Muff

Dr. Katrin Muff is a thought leader in the transformative space of sustainability and responsibility at Business School Lausanne, where she acted as Dean from 2008-2015 until self-organization made such a title redundant. Under her leadership, the school focused its vision on entrepreneurship, responsibility and sustainability in education and research. Her business experience includes 10 years at ALCOA (GM in Russia, Industry Analyst for Global M&A in the U.S. and Business Analyst Europe), 3 years as Director, Strategic Planning EMEA at IAMS Europe (Procter&Gamble), and 3 years as a co-founder of Yupango, a coaching consultancy dedicated to start-ups and training management teams.

One thought on “Reflecting on the underlying paradigms in management education (2)

  1. Dear Dean Katrin Muff,
    Reflecting on the underlying paradigms in management education was also the topic for my doctoral thesis, titled: ‘A social contract with business as the basis for a postmodern MBA in a world of inclusive globalisation – a critical metasynthesis’. I continue to update my own research on my own blog: http://www.jopiecoetzee.blogspot.com

    Your blog touches on core challenges, and is inspirational – thank you.

    Dr Jopie Coetzee