In any economy, there is always going to be a need for great managers and outstanding leaders. So, although the undergraduate business degree and the MBA might not be getting the “love” they are used to because of what I will kindly call a reshuffling of the American economy, it would be crazy to suggest that those degrees no longer have relevance. Here’s the thing: in any industry–education included–great leaders will always be needed. Here’s the other thing: bad leadership got us into some of the economic mess we are currently slogging through as a nation, and great leadership and management will get us out.
So, if you are an aspiring business student, GREAT! Come to Loyola and learn finance, marketing, accounting, entrepreneurship, administration, international business, etc. and study them through the Jesuit lens. Then, go change the world. The world needs you, and in a few years you are going to have a great many job offers. The supply of business folks will be less because so many were scared away from majoring in business this year.
Sometimes people ask me about my own management style. It’s flattering to be asked and I usually say a few things about how setting an example is more important than barking out an order; and that making sure everyone shares a common vision is more important than catering to a dozen different agendas. Then, as I feel myself about to laugh at how self important I must sound, I just recommend a couple of great books.
The first is Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Managing with Power. It was originally printed in 1992 by Harvard Business School Press. The book is an unabashed exploration of conceptions of power–who has it in an organization, who wants it, and how it flows. Throughout, Pfeffer makes the point that charisma and collaboration are often more important than authority when getting things done and inspiring others to a common vision. Great stuff. I first read the Pfeffer book in graduate school and it’s a great lesson in learning to be comfortable with ambiguity and a sense that we can sometimes allow too much analysis to paralyze decision-making. Pfeffer asserts that dealing with the consequences of a decision is healthier than wringing our hands over making one. Amen to that. There’s so much more–give it a dance, as we say in NOLA (ok, no one really says that here but me, but maybe we can start a trend?).
The second book on the SALutations recommend list (sounding a little self-important again; ok, I’ll tone it down) is Good to Great by Jim Collins, Harper Business Press in 2001. One of my good friends, the extraordinary Jacki Giordano, hyped me to this book. If ever you needed a back-up case for the phrase, “Hire for attitude first, skill second,” here it is. Get the right people on the bus, Dr. Collins says, and you can be on your way to GREAT. Fail to do that, and you’re going to need more rules to keep in line the under-achievers and the people who don’t really want to be there. This means more bureaucracy, and, therefore, more overhead, more inefficiencies, worse stock performance (or any other measures of financial health), and so on. Collins argues that great leaders are humble and more “plow-horse” than “show-horse.” More “go-get-it” than glitz. More about “us” than “me.” Words to live by!
If professionals or undergraduates ask me what traits are best in today’s workforce, I’d say it’s the kind of selflessness that allows a person to see team goals ahead of one’s own. The standout is the person who is willing to take on any task for the betterment of the team. The best thing about this advice is that it’s in line with Catholic, Jesuit values, it’s never going to be ineffective, and it’s a great way to set an example to others–no matter where they fall in the hierarchy of the organization.
And, here’s the irony: the person who makes that team-first commitment is the first one that managers turn to when it’s time for a promotion or an exciting assignment.
So you might ask, is it really possible to be ambitious and team-driven at the same time? Pfeffer and Collins would say “yes.” In fact, for those who aspire to be GREAT, it’s essential.