‘Managers not MBAs’ Examines Management Education

September 18, 2012

There are plenty of experts on management practices reinforcing the way in which business programs are churning out students bound for the managerial track. But if you’re seeking audio books of this nature you may as well turn to a “strategic management” guru like Peter Drucker. If, on the other hand, you’re an MBA student or an actual manager looking to improve your relations with employees in order to create a positive work environment that is fulfilling for everyone, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and look at what you could be doing to improve your managerial style. And the thoughtful and inspiring advice offered by Henry Mintzberg in his audio book ‘Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development’ could be just what the doctor ordered.

The average student coming out of an MBA program has one thing on his side; a skillset that includes the ability to analyze any work situation and apply a formula meant to increase production, decrease cost, or ideally accomplish both. Unfortunately, you are not working in finance, which means that there’s a lot more to your job than simply playing a numbers games. A management position, by its very nature, requires you to work with people. And they are real people, not just a collection of data that includes salaries on a spreadsheet, number of hours worked each week, and a quantifiable output of labor. According to Mintzberg, there are actually three key components required to manage workers successfully. The first (and possibly least important) is the science, or analysis aspect. Then managers must have a certain amount of art (or insight) and craft (or experience) at their disposal. Unfortunately, both come only with time. But in order to develop these skills, one must first be open to the possibility of continuing to learn.

Nearly everyone has had the pleasure to work for at least one truly remarkable manager, as well as a far greater number that are terrible, in most cases. And many can identify certain characteristics that separate one from the other. For example, a good manager praises accomplishments and encourages workers to take pride in their efforts, whereas a bad one calls you in only to tell you that your numbers are down and intimate that you are replaceable. A good manager understands that team building and rewards are an important way to keep morale high and improve performance while a bad one wonders why he should have to give extras to make people do the job they were hired for (perhaps if someone told him that the additional perks were required for the extra effort needed to put up with him…).

In any case, Mintzberg spends more time expounding upon a solution (a three-part system that involves continuing to train managers after they’ve completed an MBA program) than harping on the failures of the current system. This is especially important in areas such asĀ healthcare management MBA programs, where the managerial style could trickle down to affect patients in either positive or negative ways. But it definitely applies to any industry in which a managerial staff is responsible for getting the very best out of every worker and ensuring that employees have no reason to take their knowledge and experience to competitors (in other words, keep them happy). Mintzberg’s views may not be popular in an MBA-centric system, but ‘Managers Not MBAs’ offers a far more common-sense approach to training good managers than academia alone can accomplish.


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