There is a great interview on leadership with Jim March (probably the most prestigious living organizational theorist) by Joel Podolny (current head of HR at Apple, but also a very accomplished academic researcher) in the current edition of the Academy of Management Learning and Eduction journal (Vol. 10, No. 3, 502–506.) The link is here, but someone will likely make you buy it.
March, as always, looks at things differently than the rest of us. For example, he does a lovely job of arguing -- using historical figures like Aristotle and Alexander the Great -- that the time frames used in most leadership research are often too short to be useful. But what really caught my eye was a line that reminded me of that old Pink Floyd song :
We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control.
March laments on page 503 :
My experience with business school students is that those who possess an instinct for joy, passion, and beauty often learn to suppress their expression by virtue of a sense that such instincts are unwelcome both in business schools and in business, thereby making the sense self-confirming.
I found this depressingly accurate for too many students, who often seem to lose their spark. It doesn't just happen in business schools, to be clear, it is a danger in any school or institution that has strong norms, where people are in close physical proximity, and they have a lot of contact with each other (Indeed, Apple especially needs to guard against this now). I do believe that the d.school -- at least at its best -- sometimes serves as a countervailing force, as the best teachers and classes there do encourage joy and self-expression. But as much as I love being a professor, I do think that Jim raises an implicit question that every educator needs to keep asking him or herself:
"What am I teaching my students? Am I teaching them to think for themselves and to be themselves? Or am I teaching them to a perfect imitation of each other, or of some other idealized and emotionally cold model of humanity?"
I am not saying that conformity is all bad, but too often we teach it unwittingly. I am curious about your reactions to March's point. Is he (and I guess me) too hard on the educational process? What can be done to educate people without turning them into emotionally repressed and joyless clones?
P.S. BY the way, after I posted it, I realized that March's comment actually is another example of the issue I raised in my last post about how roles can change what do and believe so much.