John Van Maanen, Catalyst fellow, on teaching leadership

Writing in the New York Times Education Life column on Tuesday, author Duff McDonald examines the issue of what, exactly, business schools are teaching. Noting the overwhelming shift in these schools' marketing and communications materials away from from a focus on "management" and towards "leadership," the piece raised the question of whether leadership can, in fact, be taught.

Specifically, the Times turned to John Van Maanen, a Catalyst Culture Lab fellow.

"John Van Maanen, a professor of management at M.I.T. Sloan who teaches a course named “Leading Organizations,” isn’t so sure it can. “Even today, three-plus decades in, there’s no real definition of it,” he says. “We can make people more conscious of ethical dilemmas in business, of the difficulty of directing people in times of adversity, and the confidence and communication skills necessary to do so. But the idea that such skills can be transmitted so that you can lead anybody at any time, that’s ideologically vacuous.”

“It’s difficult not to be frustrated by the excessive focus on it,” he says, “but it’s become so popular that we apparently can’t teach enough of it.”

McDonald concludes by noting that Dr. Van Maanen is not alone in his skepticism. What do you think?

Image source: New York Times

-- Clara Shen

Catalyst Content Briefing 13 April 2015

Culture and behavior