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Professional Opinion

B-schools: Proactive trendsetters or reactive followers?

Business students must get a complete education
University Business, December 2018
Joan Marques is dean of Woodbury University’s Business School in California.
Joan Marques is dean of Woodbury University’s Business School in California.

Should business schools cater to the desires of the business world and deliver graduates that perform in line with the needs out there? Or should they each meet improved and future-oriented business performance trends?

At a recent Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business conference, Stanford University organizational behavior professor Jeffrey Pfeffer claimed that leadership education and development is failing and workplace turnover is rampant.

The reason? B-schools don’t prepare their graduates well enough for the real dynamics in the world of business.

Pfeffer said that care for subordinates, as taught in many B-schools today, is not particularly high on any business radar, because reality displays an entirely different picture in which leaders are excessively rewarded while subordinates are not paid well and are often the ones laid off.

The only way future generations can establish a change process, he said, is to become aware of how behavior in organizations works.

He encouraged his audience to lead with power—that is, take up space, adopt a powerful posture, interrupt others rather than being interrupted, favor anger over regret, and look confident and comfortable, even if you don’t feel that way.

Opposing views

Several other presenters responded that B-schools should be change agents and carve new pathways toward improved behavioral performance.

Caryn Beck-Dudley, dean at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, and Philip Vergauwen, dean at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics & Management, stressed that B-schools have long been known as change instigators, and should remain as centers of knowledge creation and transfer to the business world.

They maintained that the role of B-schools and their scholarly educators was to elevate business performance through the introduction of increased awareness levels, the display of mutual respect-based approaches, and the development of more virtuous ways to lead organizations successfully.

An alternative approach

Still, there was one common perspective—the insight that business students could benefit much more from their educational experience if they were exposed to both business scholars and practitioners from the professional world.

As a B-school dean and a scholar of organizational behavior and leadership, performing in one of the nation’s most diverse business climates, I believe that the business world is ready for an alternative way of performing.

Soft skills, such as empathy, strong work ethic and proper communication, provide critical pathways toward leadership in a changing world.

I believe, too, that we should take note of the era in which we live, as it has transcended from the now obsolete “command and control” mode into a collaborative and respect-based climate, which is occupied by a workforce that is more educated than ever.

I believe that a close collaboration between business leaders and business scholars is critical for success and for the constructive reinvention of B-schools, business corporations and students.

A widespread practice is not necessarily a good one, and the way many corporations are run is counterintuitive to decency and mutual respect.

There is as much value in teaching upcoming leaders about current workplace practices as there is in educating them to become the change they would like to see in the world.

When we acknowledge and embrace that awareness, we can start celebrating the path toward the cultivation of innovative leaders for a sustainable society.


Joan Marques is dean of Woodbury University’s Business School in California.