Regular readers will know that I consider leadership to be environmental: Leaders enable an environment in which all sorts of things occur that are consequential effects of that enablement. Among those things – ideally – is that alternate futures become possible. That, to me, is the essence of contemporary leadership. But all sorts of other thing also occur, including the reproduction of dysfunctional cultural behaviours.
We’ve seen lots of them this year: City of Toronto led by a dysfunctional mayor; with dysfunctional leadership between the Police Services Board and the Police Service; Toronto District School Board and its multiplicity of dysfunctions; CBC management seemingly mishandling the Jian Ghomeshi affairs with what appears to be wilful blindness in favour of material gains. Leadership dysfunctions seem to trickle down throughout an organization driven from the culture – the exemplar behaviours, customs, mores, language, interactions, and worldviews – that is sanctioned by example from the organization’s leaders.
In the business world, successful exemplars that train-by-lived-example often find their origins in business schools. Those who teach business at the top schools – and who themselves are paid like rock stars – set the tone for future leaders. Is it any wonder, then, that sexist behaviours stubbornly persist throughout the (business) world when first-year MBA students are given an assignment portraying a fictitious “ditzy female” protagonist who can’t figure her way through a first-job compensation package (even though she later remembers that her Finance class notes should provide her with the appropriate calculations because, “she is a ‘super-organized’ student with binders that are ‘colour-coded and organized by term’”). Instead, she turns to her Yale-educated fiancé for assistance because she is busy dreaming of “little blue [Tiffany] boxes and beautiful [Louboutin] shoes.”
Rotman was quick to issue a retraction and a perfunctory statement of unacceptability. To which I would say, “Horse pucky!”
That the assignment was released to students without a second thought by the professor – Kent Womack (whose earnings according to the province’s sunshine list were just over a half million dollars annually… talk about an aspirational role model for business students!) – reveals much about the cultural norms of acceptable behaviour that are endemic in the institution. That the professor refused to take ownership of the offense by stating that the assignment was written by an unnamed teaching assistant reveals even more. Now consider all of that together with the in-class conversation subsequently turning to protecting the Rotman brand with Professor Womack advising students, “to think carefully before speaking to the media.” You don’t have to have your Finance notes colour-coded by term to do that math: The exemplar behaviour displayed by this highly paid, and therefore highly regarded, Rotman professor suggests that it will be a long, long time before business leaders will truly “get” the transformation occurring throughout society which characterizes the 21st century.
What we still need in our business schools is authentic, contemporary leadership education. It seems we won’t be seeing same from business schools still grounded in the last century.