Management education

I have always been bothered by the fact that many people who become team leaders or managers in the UK do so with little formal education or training in the subject.  We cannot drive a car on the road without passing a test that would be almost impossible to get through without an investment in formal training by a qualified instructor, so why do we think someone can manage people, companies, budgets, projects, clients, partnerships, industrial relations etc without a proportionate level of management education?  Is it any wonder that we see such high levels of stress among managers, often underpinned by feelings of not coping?

Despite the potential downsides of being a manager, it is important to remember that it is also an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career, and I feel that the difference is often simply down to preparedness.  Have you been educated in being a leader and are you on a continuous programme of management development?  If you are then I think the chances of success as a manager and director are higher and the chances of suffering stress through feelings of not coping are lower.    I believe strongly that formal management education is an important factor in successful management careers, and I want to explain why.

Though we have more people participating in higher education than ever before through the university route, the decline of the company funded part-time HND in the UK as the enabler of career progression has meant that training in the major practical areas of management has declined.  This because many HND subjects included management training as standard.  Though I studied chemical engineering at university after school, it was a subsequent Diploma in Management Services that taught me about leadership and motivation, organisational design, financial management, personnel management, industrial relations, productivity, logistics etc.  I have always regarded that part-time two year course as the best education that I ever had, and I doubt that I ever thanked my employer sufficiently for paying the fees and giving me the time off.  I certainly do not believe that I would have picked it all up along the way if I had not enrolled.  In fact, formal management education based on a body or research often teaches us that things that seem like they will work can have unexpected negative consequences.  A common example of this phenomenon is occurs when psychometric assessments are used at work to classify people by personality ‘type’ (personality – let alone personality type – is a much disputed and debated construct in the world of psychology).  The notification of ‘type’ to the individual often resulting in them spending the next few years trying to behave to type and using certain characteristics of their type to explain their failures and less helpful behaviours.  Another example I have seen on a number of occasions is when a small number of staff are selected for ‘high potential’ or executive development schemes, only for the organisation to experience a drop in overall morale and performance as those not selected feel unappreciated and perform worse.  A final example (a favourite of the occupational pscyhologist Frederik Herzberg) is the poor correlation between pay and performance up to the point where people given an unexpected bonus for doing a piece of work that they particularly loved doing suddenly become demotivated when their creation is effectively reduced to the status of a commodity.  All three of these common management mistakes could be avoided if managers were put through formal management training, as all three are covered (in my experience) in one way or another by most academic courses in the subject.  In my own case, I was so fascinated by theories of leadership, motivation and organisational change that I went on complete an MSc in organisational psychology (so I now have hundreds of examples of do’s and don’t with which to bore the unwary!).  So fascinated, that I may even write some more detailed posts on the examples I have given with deeper explanations as to why they do not work, and further examples of when intuition without education can let you down.

To summarise, experience is a wonderful thing but I do not believe that you will ever become everything you could be as a manager if you do not combine it with a parallel path of formal management education and development.  And why would you want to when it can be so much fun?!

Cliff Moyce, December 2013


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