Managers Not MBAs | Henry Mintzberg

Summary of: Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development
By: Henry Mintzberg


Dive into the compelling summary of ‘Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development,’ where author Henry Mintzberg challenges the efficacy of business schools and MBA programs. Mintzberg critiques the flawed selection of students, the excessive focus on analysis, and the distorted view of management as a science or profession. He argues that the real art of management lies in helping others succeed and that true leadership is energizing others to make informed decisions. Prepare to question traditional management education and explore possible reforms that can lead to a more effective management training system.

The Misconceptions of MBA Programs

MBA programs are widely popular and respected, but do they produce effective managers? This book argues that they do not, pointing to three major problems: they attract the wrong kind of student, teach the wrong things, and produce the wrong kinds of outcomes. The author argues that management is not a science, but rather a practice, and that an MBA curriculum is too theoretical to prepare someone for real-world leadership. Furthermore, the emphasis on self-promotion and analysis further distances MBA graduates from the role of helper and mentor that many successful managers must play. Ultimately, the book suggests that we need better ways of educating and preparing our future managers if we hope to see real progress in the business world.

Leadership Goes Beyond Analytic Techniques

Business schools have a flawed approach to education, with the consequences of MBA education being incompetent and arrogant graduates who lack experience in real-world management. The focus on analysis and presentation in fields such as investment banking and consulting hinders the development of intuition and strategic thinking, key traits for successful leadership. To become successful leaders and competent managers, individuals must prioritize gaining experience, build their intuition and synthesize from multiple perspectives, avoiding the analytical obsession of MBA programs.

Can a business degree truly prepare one for the real world of work and management? In this striking analysis, the author denounces the disappointing reality of MBA education and highlights its shortcomings. Business schools have changed little since the early twentieth century, offering analytical studies of various functional disciplines of business without truly addressing the importance of intuition, creativity and leadership in successful management. In fact, the education system tends to reward students who follow prescribed analysis-based approaches, without much consideration for individual thinking or context.

One significant issue is the business schools’ approach to strategy, which relies on the methodology of Michael Porter. Porter’s analytical techniques do not offer much to the field of management, yet they benefit the professors, as it makes them look more “scientific” and credible. This approach towards management fails to address the importance of having intuition and astute observation of human resources, people and business facts in developing real-world strategies.

Business schools have also created a culture that promotes arrogance, as MBAs leave school confident in their new degrees that put them in a class above others who lack such degrees. These individuals are generally incompetent and fail to perform as expected in the real world, where their lack of experience, hands-on knowledge and intuition prevent them from effectively managing real-world problems. Moreover, with their obsession on analysis and presentation, MBAs avoid the “real” functions of selling or operations, taking remote jobs in human resources or strategic planning.

The author argues that a true measure of management education should be by performance as a manager, and not a right granted by the score on a test. Rather than banal analysis, emphasis should be on developing intuition, synthesize from multiple perspectives, and consider context-specific strategic thinking. Truly gifted managers are humble, and successful leadership is not about making clever decisions or doing bigger deals, but about energizing other people to make good decisions and do better things.

MBAs, with their analytical obsession, tend to miss essential opportunities, ride bandwagons, and change fields frequently, ultimately compromising and becoming mercenaries, lacking individuality and adaptability. The author concludes that to become successful leaders and competent managers, individuals must prioritize gaining experience, build their intuition and synthesize from multiple perspectives, avoiding the analytical obsession of MBA programs.

Success or Failure: The Impact of MBA Education

The education MBA graduates receive from prestigious institutions such as Harvard is often lauded. However, the success rate of many alumni in their respective businesses questions the value of this education. Robert Strange McNamara, an alumnus of Harvard, applied MBA principles to his tenure at the Department of Defense during the Vietnam War but failed to understand the context of the war. Similarly, 19 alumni identified in David Ewing’s Inside the Harvard Business School experienced significant business failures, indicating a short-term phenomenon concerning the effectiveness of MBA education.

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