Engaging Leadership - Henry
An interview with corporate
strategist Henry Mintzberg
Henry Mintzberg is a world-renowned business thinker. He first
prominence with his book The Nature of Managerial Work. Since
then he has
written a number of books covering a diverse range of subjects,
strategy to the ordeals of international travel.
Currently the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill
Montreal, Canada, he is also a visiting professor at a number
of business schools
including INSEAD and London Business School. He was the driving
the creation of the International Masters Program in Practicing
unique business education program.
Mintzberg has a deserved reputation for provocative and controversial
Yet, while he may be controversial his observations are invariably
insightful. His recent book Managers Not MBAs develops one of
themes: the shortcomings of the world's gold standard in business
the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. It also touches
he has written about earlier such as organisational design and
During a visit to London Professor Mintzberg spoke to Steve_Coomber
variety of subjects including what it takes to be an effective
manager and why
an MBA is not necessarily part of that equation.
What are the key skills that successful
I'm always reluctant to talk about what the key skills of effective
managers are, as it becomes an infinitely long list. I think
about what the characteristics are that lead to effective management.
I think managers need to be informed, I think they need to know
what's going on, at the ground level in the organisations they
I think effective chief executives are candid, and thoughtful.
don't follow the crowd. They think things through for themselves,
something fewer and fewer chief executives do these days. They
are not big on managerial correctness, they know what they think
But I think that the key factor for me is that they do what they
based on a deep tacit understanding of what they are managing;
both the industry, and the company itself.
So are these the kind of skills you
get from taking an MBA?
No, you don't get any of it. The MBA does exactly the opposite,
trains people out of context. It gives them the impression that
can manage anything. Because there is no context in an MBA
program. Even when people have experience it is rarely used.
traditional style MBA does not use experience at all.
Take case studies for example. Learning from case studies isn't
experience, it's voyeurism. People who are already practicing
management can learn from cases written about other people. But
people who haven't practiced management can't learn from them
that easily. Worse still, case studies are not used just to expose
people to other kinds of experience; they are used to force people
to make decisions based on the most superficial of knowledge.
What do the people know about these companies that they are forced
to make decisions about? They read twenty pages the night before.
There was a survey of MBAs in Business Week a little while ago.
The MBAs named their favorite chief executive. It was a top five
list and none of them had an MBA.
In Managers Not MBAs you outline
three different types of management style: calculating, heroic
and engaging. What is the difference between them?
We've long been dominated by calculating managers, right back
Robert McNamara, ex-Ford president and Secretary of Defense
during the Vietnam war, and his obsession with numbers. Then
there was ITT and Harold Geneen with all his numbers. Now it's
in the form of shareholder value. Everybody is looking at the
stock price every few hours. It is like playing tennis and watching
the scoreboard instead of the ball. That is the calculating
Heroic managers are ultimately not much different but they think
they are artists, they think they are very creative. So they
come out with these strategies like at Vivendi, AOL Time Warner,
They come out with all these lovely looking strategies, which
ultimately are not that interesting. I call them pretend artists.
These are the heroic managers, engaging in the great massive
mergers, with all the drama that entails.
Finally we have the style I prefer, which I call engaging. This
is where managers and chief executives first go about engaging
They know the industry. They know the people. They are committed
to the company. They are not there for a few years just to to
drive up stock prices and run off with their bonuses. And by
engaging themselves, they engage other people.
You suggest that the dominance of
the MBA as an educational standard has corrupted managerial practice.
Why is that?
Well, because you have people coming out thinking they are prepared
to manage, and they are not. And what is even worse you get people
coming out who don't even go into management, they go into consulting
or finance. They do an end run around management and end up leaping
from consulting jobs, or financial jobs, into chief
executive chairs. And I think the performance of many of them
just plain dreadful. There are exceptions, but a lot of them
But what is it about an MBA education
which you believe often makes people illequipped to be leaders
Confidence without competence. Which to me is equivalent to
MBA courses tend to attract people who aren't necessarily sensitive
to people issues. We have a lot of evidence that these are people
more concerned with numbers, and getting themselves ahead, than
dealing with people. There's a wonderful quote which comes from
an interview with Harvard professor John Kotter. He did a study
of the Harvard MBA class of 1974, tracking their careers. A journalist
asked him if the people he tracked were team players. He said
no, they want to run the team, create the team and lead it to
glory rather than be a member of someone else's team. And that
is the antithesis of team working, wanting to run the team.
We talk about top managers. But anyone who's on top of the team
is outside the team, and doesn't know what is going on. We describe
organisations as networks, and we talk about top managers, but
anybody who's on top of the network is outside the network. That
is exactly what the Kotter quote suggests. These people don't
want to be part of the team, they want to run the team. It's
the obsession with having to be in charge. You know leadership
should be earned.
Leadership shouldn't be granted because you have a degree and
old boys network.
So how do you earn leadership?
You earn leadership from those that you lead. You earn leadership
from earning the respect of the people. Kofi Annan was put into
position at the United Nations with tremendous support from the
UN staff, he earned his leadership. McKinsey & Co elects
its senior partner, its chief executive in effect, by a vote
of the senior partners. I wonder if it has ever recommended that
to any of its clients.
Can you learn leadership, or do you
think it´s an innate quality?
Well, you learn it in the sense of experiences and exposures,
challenges, and all those sorts of things. That's how you learn
leadership. Nobody has ever been made into a leader in the
classroom. Courses that claim to create leaders are dishonest.
can't create a leader in the classroom. What you can do is take
people and enhance their managerial skills, and enhance their
understanding of their job, if they are already in positions
And I am totally against this notion that you can separate managers
from leaders. This implies that leaders don't have to manage,
which means that leaders don't have to know what is going on
intimately in their organisation. Which is wrong.
They have to be connected, and management is the way in which
they are connected. Nobody wants managers who aren't leaders.
So why would we want leaders who aren't managers, leaders who
don't know what is going on, who aren't connected. It's a phony
What are the key issues facing CEOs
If you are in a publicly traded company, then it's probably coping
with shareholder value. Trying to get past the short-term pressures,
the need to impress the media for example, and really build the
How can senior management best cope
with a disproportionate emphasis on shareholder value?
Taking the company private is one way. Another way is to open
the representation on the board of directors. If you had other
constituencies represented you would be better off.
Shareholder value is corporate social irresponsibility. Because
implies that only one constituency matters, and it is probably
the least important constituency. The people who really make
companies successful are the employees, not the stockholders.
So you have to empower the employees
at board level?
You don't have to empower the employees. I don't like the term
'empower', because it implies that they need some gift from the
gods to do what they are hired to do. They should know what they
have to do, and just do it. No, you have to inspire the employees.
And the first way to inspire them is by being part of the organisation,
not just grabbing huge bonuses for yourself. That inspires nobody.
That's why I think there is a leadership deficit in the Anglo-Saxon
corporate world today. I think things are better in Japan for
example. They have a different tradition. There is certainly
a lot more humility in Japanese companies.
You have said "great organisations
once created don't need great leaders." Do you still believe
this? And what do you mean?
What I was trying to say is that it takes a special kind of leadership
to start something from scratch. Because you're really fighting
all the odds. You are up against all the pressures, having to
carve out your own niche. An established organisation that's
sizeable really needs a motivated, enthusiastic workforce. That
might take quiet, concerted, sympathetic and engaged management-more
so than heroic management. There are all kinds of self-appointed
heroes out there, running around trying to fix companies that
Why is that?
Because people are paid obscenely for impressive gains in stock
I think the press is mainly responsible because it wants to write
about dramatic actions, not about steady, boring companies. What
if really good management may be boring to observe? No mergers,
no big dramatic acts. You don't fire thousands of people every
time the stock dips. Imagine that.