Henry Mintzberg is Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University and a visiting professor at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France. But he is better known for his ten books and for co-founding, with Jonathan Gosling, the International Masters Programme in Practising Management (IMPM). Led by a consortium of schools from five countries, including INSEAD and McGill, the IMPM offers an alternative approach to management education, teaching students in five modules, each held in a different country and focusing on a different aspect of managing, over the course of 18 months. It has spawned a similar programme for the public sector in Canada and the Advanced Leadership Programme for senior-level managers. Mr Mintzberg has stepped down as chairman of the IMPM to continue writing, including his next book, “Developing Managers, Not MBAs”. He spoke with The Economist Global Executive from Prague.
What led you to the conclusion that current management education was flawed?
I guess seeing enough MBAs over time and seeing the impact of MBAs on companies. Having an MBA doesn't mean you're a terrible manager; there are a number of successful managers who have MBAs . . . But I think that [in business schools] there's a promotion of an approach to managing that is disastrous in many areas. Because basically, you don't get trained in the capacity for managing in an MBA programme. You think you do, but when you end up in a managerial position, you don't really have much to turn to from your education . . . a lot of people end up grabbing for techniques.
The most obvious example, I think, of where it goes wrong is in the case-study method: give me 20 pages and an evening to think about it and I'll give you the decision tomorrow morning. It trains people to provide the most superficial response to problems, over and over again getting the data in a nice, neat, packaged form and then making decisions on that basis. It encourages managers to be disconnected from the people they're managing.
Also because getting an MBA is a license to practice managing things that you never worked in. Often, MBAs will parachute around from one company or industry to another, without really understanding what's behind it.
Can you point to specific examples of MBAs failing as managers?
[Joseph Lampel and I] did an article, eight months ago—we came across this book from a Harvard Business School insider in 1990, which featured the Harvard “superstars” of 1990, and so ten years on we decided to look at how these people did. Well, out of 19 people listed, ten of them were disasters, either fired by their boards, things like that, including people like Frank Lorenzo [of Eastern Airlines]. He probably made the list by about eight months.
Why does the IMPM solicit applications from working managers rather than full-time students?
It's two things: teaching people who have a context, and we make use of their own decision, building on their own experiences whenever we can. We use a few cases, but we're not a case place. We make great use of their own personal experiences, and it's incredibly powerful.
How much experience do you think a student would need to benefit from an MBA programme?
I don't think they'll get anything out of an MBA programme in that regard. What you get out of an MBA programme, no matter how much experience, is functional tools and understanding in disciplines: you'll understand economics, you'll understand marketing, finance, accounting. That, MBA programmes do very well. No matter how much experience you've got, that's what the focus is. For a management programme like ours, or anything that's truly geared to management . . . I think you've got to be in a management position and be struggling with having to manage a situation. Whether that means one year of finance or ten years, I'm not altogether sure. We know it works well with people who have five to ten years of actual experience. But I've always wanted to run [an IMPM-style programme] with junior managers, to see how it would work.
They've got to be in a managerial context to be able to use that context in the classroom. And the classroom has to be designed to take advantage of that, which almost no MBA programmes or executive education programmes do.
You've talked about exploring different styles of managing: perhaps a European style, a developing-countries style, and so on. What have you discovered about the possibilities of difference in managing styles?
We haven't really studied it systematically in the context of the class. It's difficult to get the different schools to consider that, because they're just not used to the idea—except in Japan, where they're very, very obsessive about it. In Japan they're very focused on what does it mean to manage in a Japanese style. But I'm not sure we've been successful in getting the Indians in management to focus on what does it mean . . . INSEAD doesn't focus on what it means to manage in Europe.
The style of managing currently taught isn't universal at all; it's American. Everything is American. There's no reason why that should be universal.
What's wrong with the “American style”?
This obsession with leadership . . . It's not neutral; it's American, this idea of the heroic leader who comes in on a white horse to save the day. I think it's killing American companies. You've got all this drama going on. Executive bonuses are just a reflection of that, where people are singled out and paid obscenely, as if they're larger than life. It's nuts. It's absolutely nuts.
It's the also the mindless application of technique. There's a lot of that in the States, where people just grab techniques and apply them without thinking.
Among your students at IMPM, have you found a blend of management styles?
There's a lot of variety. But, you know, we're not attracting the heroes. We're attracting the craftspeople—people who know their businesses well, know their companies well.