Humanities and Leadership Journey

I taught a course called Leadership Journey for a few years in a college in London. This was part of their post-graduate programme for practising managers. It was a great little course embedded in an MBA type programme, the difference being the emphasis on practice. The participants were to plan for their own development of leadership capabilities and compile a portfolio of reflections backed by evidence, which made it very different from most MBAs.

This was part of a management course, and the rest of the programme dealt with the usual HR, Marketing, Finance, Strategy stuff. However, this one constituent course stood out, because this was more about the learners and less about any one subject, and everyone could choose their own paths to write their portfolio. I did indeed try to encourage a diversity of approaches, though not many of the learners eventually tried to be creative. Indeed, they saw this course without any fixed content as an invitation to do whatever, which means essentially getting away without doing much. The idea, however, stayed with me to eventually construct a course like this on leadership.

When I get to do it - and this is something I want to do when my project of creating a global e-school becomes a reality - I want to keep it separate from learning things like strategy etc. My plan is to build upon the key idea - a learning journey of knowing about, doing and being a leader - and construct it around an interdisciplinary structure, based on humanities, social and behavioural sciences. In my construct, the Leadership Journey itself becomes a programme itself, and divorced from the technical aspects of management. Indeed, I have nothing against management, but I reject the assumption that knowing about strategy or finance makes one capable of leadership. Leadership capabilities, in their broad behavioral meaning as opposed to their conventional, technical, meaning, are much needed in all spheres of the society, not just in business, and the institution I am designing is to serve that broader social goal. 

One objection to this approach is that I am trying out the old tired approach that humanities courses are inherently better in developing leadership abilities than others. But my approach, I shall claim, is slightly different. I have seen the limitations of professional education first hand, and would claim that a narrow professional education limits the ability to reflect on the human and moral aspects of work. This does not only mean significant moral failure, which we all bear witness of, but also a declining professional standard and gradual debasement of social commitment of a profession, like the one management is now facing. What I am trying to create is an alternative way of learning about leadership, through exploring history, following biographical pathways, understanding psychology, ethics and culture and connecting back to moral and social aspects of work.

But there is also another reason why I think the old, tired approach is better. Anyone reading history will notice that this is a point when history is making a comeback. The euphoria days of the 90s, when we reached the end of history, are well and truly over. The break with the past, just like successful children wanting to break away from the way of their parents, was fashionable when we felt confident about the future. But, right now, confronted with globalisation, decline of democracy, unrestrained powers of the few on the rest of us, we are seeking to understand, again, the ways of the past. From this point on, there are two ways to choose. Some of us are choosing to hate, reject our surroundings and wanting to go back to the past. Others, a few, are still choosing to hope, and trying to find ways to reconcile the future learning the lessons from the past. My idea is to be able to promote the latter message.

While I want to develop this course as a part of the overall E-school proposition, this is a standalone project in itself. I evangelize the essential idea of developing an applied humanities approach to leadership development (as I have come to call it) whenever I am talking to someone who cares to listen. This, development of a full scheme of Leadership Journey based on this model, is my project for 2015, and I hope to find a friendly institution to test run this with by the end of the year.  



Anonymous said…
Hi Supriyo,
I was recently reading your two articles on 21st Century Skills, Education Sector & the challenges behind it, they were brilliant!
I also read about E-School and now your interesting 'humanities approach to leadership'.

When it comes to Leadership Development, I follow a similar approach focusing on Character(which you call humanities approach) & Competency development.
I see a potential for a possible collaboration, either in exchange of ideas or may be partnering as well
My Linkedin A/c is

My Best to you,
Carl Ebenezer P

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