Where do we learn leadership from? Do business schools really teach it?

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on May 21st 2019
Dr. Lucy Kiruthu

Business schools have mushroomed across the globe. Locally, almost every town in Kenya has a business school that offers certificate, diploma, degree and even masters courses. At the core of business courses is the study of how businesses operate, what causes them to succeed and what makes them to fail. One would expect that students graduating from business schools have an understanding of simple business management concepts. That is not always the case; most students graduating from our business schools lack a basic understanding of how sound businesses are managed. This often makes me wonder what business schools really teach. Of outmost concern has been whether leadership is taught in business schools. Do those in business schools teach that leadership is critical to the success of a business or any organization? Do they break down leadership? Do they teach that “leaders do the right things?” Do they encourage their students to be better leaders? If they do, why is effective leadership very rare in our society today?

I have several elementary believes about leadership. One is that leadership starts from self. What that simply means is that if one is unable to lead oneself, how can they be trusted to lead others? I consider self-leadership to be an ability to understand and to positively influence oneself. Secondly, I believe that leadership skills can be learned. One can learn how to communicate more effectively, make better and ethical decisions, develop a team, and manage change among other leadership skills. Are business schools intentional about imparting specific leadership skills in their students?. I also believe that leadership is best taught not by what we say but by what we do. We learn leadership from our parents, relatives, teachers, managers, politicians, religious leaders etc. Do these people model good leadership in their everyday interactions?

From a business context, my understanding is that leadership is what separates business success from failure. It is for this reason that I strongly advocate that business schools and indeed every institution of learning should advance the comprehension of the leadership concept. I believe that an effective leader is one who is ready to take charge, guide performance, influence others positively, and build strong relationship based on trust in order to achieve specific beneficial organizational objectives by doing what is right. Today, most in positions of leadership seem to have studied some business courses. Unfortunately, we have many leaders but very few of them are effective in taking up the leadership responsibility. It is not enough to attend annual leadership and governance conferences. We must learn specific leadership skills and apply them daily!

Finally, besides business schools, the leadership gospel needs to be preached to self and to others at home, in church and at the workplace. We need to develop specific leadership skills that our society so urgently needs. Unless we have leaders that are more effective in our midst, we are unlikely to see any lasting positive changes in our society. I believe that leadership development is the solution to the many challenges that we face in Kenya and Africa at large. Are we developing effective leaders? What am I doing today to become a more effective leader?

Dr. Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy

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