Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why Study Leadership

It was 2001.   An evening MBA class at a University of San Francisco.  I was invited to meet students who were scheduled to attend USF's first offering of The Samurai Game®.  Over the next few years the simulation would become part of the university's MBA core leadership course, and also offered within a special USF for-credit retreat.   But this night was simply introductory time.  
The professor needed time to cover the day's topic - The JoHari Window.  Then, turning her attention to me for the night's remaining minutes, we went round the room so everyone could answer a question I requested in order to help me prepare for what I'd bring to them in a couple of weeks.  "What are you gaining from your leadership studies here at USF?" 
A third of the way around the circle sat a student sprawled across his chair, feet out, head tossed back.  Everything about him said, "I don't want to be here."  His contribution started with a deep in breath and a sigh, and then, "Well leadership is an interesting topic.  But I'm only getting my MBA so I can more marketable.  I really don't care about leadership, and I don't' think it should be a required course in the MBA program.  Why should I have to study it?"
That was quite a poke.   My "what are you gaining" question was sincere.  I took the work seriously (still do).  I wanted know how to serve each candidate and their professor, and the university's mission.  I caught myself reacting.  Then I paused so his question could hang in the air for a while.  I recall thinking, "Well, at least he's being real."
I was an outsider that night.  No official standing within this system, just an invited guest.   I found myself wondering if other barbed surprises lurked.  Was this guy an anomaly?  Was he voicing what others wanted to say but were unwilling, embarrassed or afraid to admit?  Words like, "HEY, LET'S GET REAL ... I'M ONLY HERE AS A STEPPING STONE TO GET SOMEWHERE ELSE!" 
Today, 2015, we hear about this kind of thing all the time.  It's nothing new.  We read about Congressional representatives motivated to run for office with little thought given to serving a constituency; instead a lot of thought pointed at the lucrative business called being a lobbyist.   For how many people has election into a government position become today's MBA? 
Back to 2001 and USF.  I looked around the room.   Some were embarrassed.  I saw a few shocked faces and shaking heads.  ("Nope," I thought, "he's speaking for himself.  If others hold that opinion and are covering it up -- then that's just the way it is.")
My next words just kind of walked into the room's silence.   "I'm not certain I can do justice to your question, 'Why study leadership?.'  But once you have your MBA degree and you've marketed yourself well, and you have that great job, ask the people working for you why you should have studied leadership.  They'll probably have an answer.  Thanks.  Next?"
[Click here to read "On Principled Leadership: It's the Person, Not the Title"; L Giroux; USF Graduate Business Journal, September 2002.]
© Lance Giroux, August 2015

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