“Everybody” … “They” … talk ceaselessly about the need for more effective leaders. The bedrock is obviously first-class leadership training. So we applaud “with-it” B.Schools when they add a leadership elective, or provide an opportunity (note that I did not say “require”) students to take an “interpersonal dynamics” course covering the annoying “people stuff.”
True. True. True. Nothing but nothing is more important than leadership. And B.Schools … AND CORPORATIONS … do a lousy-crappy-pathetic job in teaching it … even if they do “bother” to try.
BusinessWeek, in its 11.28 cover tribute to Peter Drucker, called him … “THE MAN WHO INVENTED MANAGEMENT.” Maybe he “invented” management—highly unlikely, since British trading companies among others have been doing it brilliantly for about half a millennium—but he sure as heck didn’t “invent” leadership. (Nor say much about it, for that matter.)
However, be of cheer. There is good news. Yup, even before Peter Drucker (or Jack Welch) there were/are indeed places that “got it”/”get it.” And have gotten it for, well, centuries. Don’t go to Cambridge, MA. Or Palo Alto, CA. Instead try these three: Consider, for starters, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Founded in 1741. Produced leaders-managers-policy makers for half of earth’s nations—including “CEOs” for both sides in many a major conflict. Then there’s the USMA/West Point. Since we got started a little later than the Brits, its pedigree goes back merely to 1802. (Washington wanted it, but Congress resisted; Jefferson finally commissioned it.) This W.P.I.School (Warrior Production Institute) has also trained “CEOs” for much of the world. Since the navies of the world historically did their leadership training as shipboard OJT, the USNA/Annapolis dates back only ’til 1845; and though Britain ruled the waves for centuries, it only began dry-land leadership training, at Britannia Royal Naval College/Dartmouth, in 1905.
Leadership “boot camp”? Again, skip Cambridge, MA. Palo Alto, CA. Try the real thing, U.S. Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island (that’s not “Paradise Island”). In a marvelous forthcoming book I recently reviewed, Leading From the Front, authors and former Marine Corps officers Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch declare, “The Marine Corps believes that all Marines must learn to lead. In order to survive the chaos and uncertainty of war, a Marine is taught how to be decisive, how to take care of others, and how to take responsibility for her actions.” Hmmmm, I don’t recall those topics being on the formal, or informal, agenda at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business during my time. Instead of being “distracted” by the “soft” “people stuff,” I was ever so busy taking advanced accounting from a renowned Dean who subsequently went on to “lead” the Audit Committee for Enron’s Board of Directors.
Can leadership be “taught”? Oh yes. But as the USMA, USNA, Sandhurst, and Parris Island demonstrate, not as a sideline. Effective leadership in the private sector or the military is an occupation, a preoccupation, a trade, a craft, an obsession … and must be studied and practiced accordingly. For God’s sake, it takes six long years to train a halfway decent graduate engineer in formulaic technical skills. Why should we expect to “pick up” leadership skills “on the side” at a B.School or corporate “university”? Fat damned chance.