Building Sustainable Legacies

Business Schools Without Borders

50+20 visits the People’s Summit in Flamengo Park during the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro to host a collaboratory.

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Collaboratory with Greenpeace

A discussion with Amazon Campaigner, Tatiana de Carvalho on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior during the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.


Issue-centered learning

One of the core pillars of management education for the future is to turn current functional-based, single discipline teaching into issue-centered, trans-disciplinary learning. The development of a question-based, creativity-focused approach that enables critical and divergent thinking is an integral part of this.

Future learning environments will be established both inside a classroom and as collaborative learning platforms for action learning and research (collaboratories) in business and other organizations as well as in communities. The choice among all of these different learning settings depends on what stage a student or participant is in the journey towards mastery. As such different settings are needed for acquire awareness and actionable knowledge than we need for guided practice and independent application.

Embedding business and management education in its larger context is an important way to ensure that students perceive the necessity of engaging multiple disciplines and develop the skills required to successfully apply knowledge. Historically, some business schools have attempted to do this through the case study method. Increasingly, innovative business schools are complementing the case method with action learning projects and in this sense are following the lead of medical schools, and also engineering schools that require field-based, engineering capstone projects.

Through learning and skills development that is conducted within a context selected both for its potential learning value and for its potentially positive impact on the problem being addressed, the role and purpose of business, the state of the planet, and awareness of existing and emerging societal issues is dramatically enhanced. Teaching disciplines in isolation may be an efficient way to transfer knowledge, but it misses the opportunity to develop in students and participants deep understanding of when and how to apply knowledge, and the skill to do so effectively.  Disciplinary expertise is a necessary but insufficient condition for success. It must be complemented by deep understanding and leadership skills if students are going to develop the competencies required to solve complex multi-disciplinary problems.

Issue-centered learning is organized around existing and emerging societal and environmental global issues (i.e. water, health, poverty, climate, pollution, migration, energy, renewable resources) on a global and local scale and ensures that students develop the following characteristics, skills and competencies that complements the functional knowledge they learn and enables them to become leaders for a sustainable future:

  • A global, holistic, long-term and visionary perspective
  • Clarity, focus and intensity of commitment
  • Highly motivated to do good; to do the right thing (ethical thinking translated into action)
  • Highly evolved capacity for creative, critical, holistic, ethical and systemic thinking and decision-making
  • Ability to navigate through uncertainty, ambiguity, setbacks, challenges and problems
  • Action and results oriented. Self-starter with a high need for achievement.
  • Patient (with respect to staying the course) AND Impatient (with respect to being driven to achieve results as fast as possible)
  • Highly skilled in learning by doing; adapting; making and learning from mistakes quickly and inexpensively
  • Integrative; skilled at boundary spanning
  • Skillful in figuring out root causes; determining critical success factors; and focusing on what is most important

An issue-centered education integrates disciplinary knowledge (finance, marketing, strategy, HR) when appropriate in the learning journey of attempting to resolving a specific issue (water, migration, climate change, poverty, etc.).  Conventional wisdom is challenges by uncovering underlying assumptions of the dominant discourse – in any domain. We need to develop innovators who will question the status-quo and challenge current assumptions. Issues-centered learning is critical for ensuring that graduates are able to embrace the larger context within which their organizations operate.


Safe and powerful learning environments

The basic requirement for developing these leaders is a framework that addresses the whole person and that creates the needed openness and support for them. As such, education must provide the fertile grounds that allows for profound personal and professional development. Students and participants, irrespective of their age, will need a serious amount of personal courage to confront their fears, to let go of the views they hold on the world and on themselves and to drop the mask of a so-called educated perspective. Daring to let go of the roles we all hold requires a safe space. Developing and exploring both an inner attitude that is connected to our inner self and an outer attitude that reflects a truly human view of compassion requires a learning environment in which making mistakes is considered progress rather than failure.

Developing a safe and powerful learning environment requires a shift from knowledge teaching to sharing the journey of learning. It forms the entry ticket for transformational learning and involves the ability of the facilitating teacher to hold a safe space within which the greatest potential can emerge. Creating this kind of safe environment requires the facilitator to master the following competencies:

  • Relate to each student with personal authenticity, not pretending to have competencies or knowledge that one lacks. This learning-oriented attitude on the part of a professor can set the tone that it is acceptable not to take the risks that learning entails.
  • Be comfortable with an appropriate degree of self-disclosure, thus paving the way for disclosure on the part of students to more fully discuss the challenges they are facing and the feedback they receive.
  • Make the participants’ needs a priority and demonstrate acceptance of the students’ current abilities both academically and in terms of their leadership development.
  • Live a nonjudgmental attitude as a needed form of support. Be non-prescriptive (as a professor) in class discussions.  Good facilitators do not tell participants exactly what to do, but rather ask (both directly and indirectly) that participants take responsibility for their own development in many ways.
  • Provide a process that places participants in the position of deciding what the information means to them and how to best integrate that into their learning and development. While this process can benefit from coaching and mentoring, it should not be one that gives students all the answers.[1]

 


[1]            King, S. & Santana, L. (2010). “Feedback Intensive Programs” in Van Velsor, E., McCauley, C., & Ruderman, M. (Eds.) Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development, 3rd Edition.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

There’s no Planet B – 50+20: Management Education for the World


Management education of the future

Incremental change is not an option when looking at the planetary boundaries[1]. We need radical, disruptive thinking and vision that fundamentally question the unconscious underlying assumptions that form the mainstream discourse that determines the way we look at business, society and the world. While many traditional business programs today have a focus on leadership or entrepreneurship, few fully integrate these areas and even fewer integrate responsible leadership, sustainable entrepreneurship or enlightened statesmanship.  As Kenneth Mikkelsen (2010) notes, the speed of change is now so intense that firms must adapt faster than ever before, thus, linking leadership and entrepreneurship is mandatory if the adaptive organization is to be realized.

Holding the space for sustainable leadership for a sustainable world is a tall order and the single ideas brought together in this vision are not new. In fact, many of them are well established in other fields. We are hopeful that the magic of the vision lies in the clarity of focus in which these state-of-the-art ingredients are brought together and the purpose which they are dedicated to.

The future management school not only develops globally responsible leaders, it does so by walking the talk. It embraces globally responsible leadership by embodying its key dimensions of entrepreneurship, leadership and statesmanship as defined by GRLI[2]. We suggest that beyond developing leaders, the future management school needs to also support organizations, particularly business organizations, to successfully transform into operations to serve society and the world. And, we believe it is high time for the management education profession to actively engage in and lead the public dialogue on how to transform the existing flawed economic system into a structure that isn’t purely self-serving but contributes to the world vision we have defined above.

 

Figure 1: Holding the space for providing responsible leadership for a sustainable world


[1]            Johan Rockström: “Planetary Boundaries” (2010)

[2]            As defined by Philippe de Woot of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI)


A call to service: management education for the world

The influence of management educators is vast. They train the majority of leaders of the most influential business organizations worldwide and they impose and promote their vision of the firm and their philosophy of management. If they chose to, they could become major change agents for a better world.  To understand the link between a better world and management education, we need to clarify and agree on some upfront parameters:

Figure 1: The call to service for management education for the world by holding the space for provide responsible leadership for a sustainable world

Business schools and institutions, public or private, engaged in educating managers and leaders need to extend their scope beyond business to educate existing and emerging leaders active in organizations of any type, shape or form in business and beyond. To stress this point, we shall consistently replace the term “business school” with “management school”. The challenges described above are summarized in a call to service to provide management education for the world by “holding a space for responsible leadership for a sustainable world”. Its parameters are leadership, entrepreneurship and statesmanship.