The importance of contextualizing management education

african-leadershipCulture is something I’ve touched on a few times, primarily in terms of how different countries regard the various traits and characteristics we believe are fundamental to innovative and collaborative workplaces.

This touched on the work of people such as Geert Hofstede and Russell Ackoff, but the broad takeaway was that a one-size fits all approach is unlikely to work.

Cultural leadership

It’s a similar finding to that suggested by a recent exploration of the importance of culture in leadership development.  It takes aim at much of the leadership development world that has a somewhat homogeneous perspective on just what it takes to be a great leader.

The authors contend that such ‘one size fits all’ programs fail to take account that leadership is both a social construct, and heavily dependent upon the context the leader finds themselves in.

The paper explores the way successful leaders behave in Africa, and compares that with the recommended forms of leadership espoused in the west.

Homogeneous learnings

Far and away the bulk of the management literature has a western leaning to it.  What’s more, this western orientated approach dominates much of management education in African Business Schools.

This form of management indoctrination training would be fine if all of the world had the same cultural expectations, but of course that isn’t the case, yet we continue trying to force a western view of leadership on very different cultures.

The analysis reveals a high level of contextual dissonance between what people learn in management school, and how real-life actually unfolds.  For instance, whilst leadership schools espouse individualist tendencies, there is instead a heavy community focus in countries such as Nigeria.

Suffice to say, there are many reasons why a one size fits all approach to leadership development tends to pervade, but the research reminds us that we may need to be far smarter if we want to develop leaders capable of thriving in a range of cultures.

Indeed, the paper concludes by suggesting that the only sensible approach would be to tailor our teachings to the specific context within which they’re experienced.

Somehow I suspect this warning won’t do anything to diminish the hero culture that pervades much of leadership development, but if our organizations are to be effective in improving their leaders, it is perhaps something they should take on board.



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