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Harry Hertz


What Comes After Teaching Leadership?

Experiencing it

Published: Monday, November 9, 2015 - 16:41

Business schools today have a renewed emphasis on teaching leadership. Dawn Bailey explored this topic in a recent Blogrige post. One of the principles behind this shift, she explained, is intended to cause a deep dive into values. And values-centered leadership is, in my opinion, a critical attribute of successful leadership. It should be a point of emphasis in business programs at the MBA and bachelor’s levels.

But if I had my way, beyond leadership every business degree would end with a capstone experience that requires students to use their learning to respond to situations they will face in future leadership positions. Leaders are the people who must understand and lead from “big picture” understanding. They must take everything into account that is important to guiding their organizations. In Baldrige terms, we speak of a systems perspective and integration.

A systems perspective is the primary Baldrige core value. It means understanding all the components of your organization as a unified whole to carry out its mission, and achieve ongoing success and performance excellence. It requires you to see your organization as a system with interdependent operations. It recognizes the need to balance the sometimes conflicting desires of different stakeholders. It recognizes that achieving this balance means remaining true to your organizational values and ethical practices.

Integration is the factor that is used in Baldrige scoring (i.e., organizational performance maturity measurement) to tie process and results together in an analysis, feedback, and decision-making loop. Integration means harmonizing plans, processes, information, resource decisions, workforce capability and capacity, actions, results, and analysis to support key organizationwide goals.

As an employer, wouldn’t you want all your new employees to appreciate integration and a systems perspective, even if they aren’t on a leadership track? They would be better prepared to understand complex decisions. They would be better prepared to participate on cross-functional teams. They would be prepared to think beyond their job assignment and technical disciplines.

What would this business school capstone experience be? It would be a holistic analysis of an organization’s leadership, strategy, operations, and results, and require a proposal of key actions the organization should take. Of course, my favorite way of doing this analysis would be with the Baldrige Excellence Framework. The analysis and recommendations could be based on a case study or, even better, involve a guided consulting relationship with a real organization. Do well on the capstone, and you would be ready to pursue a career in strategic thinking and leadership.

Why is this capstone experience not happening in all business school programs? It would be a tough course to teach (“lead”) and a tough course to complete, just as students were finishing their degrees.

I had the interesting experience a few years ago of spending a day with a senior professor at one of the top U.S. business schools, talking to the faculty about instituting such a capstone course. The visit was an eye-opener for me. The faculty was not in favor of the proposal. There were two main objections: 1) the assertion that students came to the school because it was renowned for its training in one business discipline, and that is what the students wanted; and 2) the capstone did not further the research or tenure attainment of faculty, whose kudos were tied to their business discipline.

By now you probably realize I’m committed to this capstone experience. It’s why I enjoy teaching a graduate course on leadership, strategy, and organizational analysis that involves an engagement with a real client organization. This column has been rumbling around inside me for many years. Thanks to Dawn for giving me the impetus to get it out!

I’d like to hear about your experiences in your education and in the real world after getting an MBA (or similar) degree.


About The Author

Harry Hertz’s picture

Harry Hertz

Harry Hertz retired in June 2013 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he had served as director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 1995. For more than 15 years he was the primary architect of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, responsible for expansion of the Baldrige Program and Award to healthcare, education, and nonprofits, including government. Hertz serves on the advisory group for VHA’s Center for Applied Healthcare Studies, and on the adjunct faculty of American University. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. from M.I.T.