Thursday, June 05, 2008

Managing versus teaching management

"Those can, do; those who can't, teach." There is profound truth in the old crack. But we need not be ashamed of it. Teaching management and managing require very different skills and temperament- and rarely shall the twain meet.

Accepting this fact would save us all unncessary vexation. The question is frequently asked: if management professors know so much about management, why can't they do a good job of managing- starting with their own institutions? For instance, B-schools have renowned professors of strategy who go out and advise corporations on how to win. Why can't they apply more of their expertise indoors?

The story is told of a finance professor who was asked by a senior executive in a training programme, "If you are smart, why aren't you rich?" To which the prof retorted," If you are rich, how come you are dumb?"

I argued in my last ET column, Can management gurus manage?, that this is a pointless debate. Knowing something in the sense of being able to conceptualise something is very different from translating it into practice- the translation requires implementation skills, people skills, high energy levels, commercial acumen, etc all of which management gurus are liable to lack.

By the same token, we cannot expect managers to come into the classroom and excel. They may have done a great job of managing but putting things in a conceptual framework is a discipline in which professional teachers excel, not managers. My own experience with inviting senior executives to offer sessions has been less than exhilarating. Many can't do better than recount anecdotes. ("I was having lunch the other day with the prime minister of Singapore...). The ultra-bright types at the B-schools can recognise bullshitting when they hear it and quickly switch off.

How can managers contribute to improving the quality of teaching at B-schools? My column offers a couple of suggestions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can management gurus manage, and can managers turn gurus? Thank you, Sir, for bringing this out into the open. i have always wondered whether a practitioner-turned-instructor fares better at teaching management than an academic. At IIMA, i have studied under both sorts, and i have to admit that the difference is hardly significant in most cases.

In my humble opinion, a practitioner brings to the table the experience of having herself "managed" situations/ people/ crises/ organisations, etc. That certainly adds value to the teaching. But, so does a good academician, who has experienced and studied in depth and detail many such situations/ people/ crises/ organisations... experienced and dealt with many such "managers". And, most important, the academician brings along a certain detachment to the organisation, and that lends objectivity, and that is important.

Does that mean that practitioners shouldn't get involved? Not at all. On the contrary, i wish they would open up more to students/ faculty, and allow their organisations to be studied and their actions/strategies to be debated upon in classrooms. But, that isn't happening a lot, is it? True, there have been a few organisations that have started offering entire courses to teach in certain schools. But, I have a concern that the intent here is more to score a few points over competitors when it comes to recruitment, rather than a real interest in imparting practice-enhanced management education.