By Paul Waldie, Globe and Mail, October 29, 2010
When Ian Ihnatowycz read the results of a recent Canadian study on corporate leadership, he felt compelled to do something.
The study, called Leadership on Trial, was conducted by the business school at the University of Western Ontario and it surveyed 300 executives from Canada and around the world to find out what caused the financial meltdown in 2008.
The study concluded that the root cause of the crisis was a failure in leadership at companies, governments, banks and business schools. It also offered several proposals to help prepare future leaders.
“That got me to thinking,” said Mr. Ihnatowycz, founder of Toronto-based Acuity Investment Management Inc., who was among those surveyed for the study. “I’ve seen leadership failures at many levels in many different industries over the years. It has caused me some concern.”
(Hence the $3.5 million donation to the project from Ihnatowycz and his partner, Ms Witer to the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario.)
The people who are responsible for curricular decisions at Royal Military College in Kingston believe that "leadership cannot be taught" and they focus on academic disciplines like psychology. We disagree.
So do, apparently, Mr.Ihnatowycz and his wife Ms Witer.
There are many studies focused on the meltdown in 2008, including one at Cambridge University, that is considering the implications of excessive testosterone as one of the principal causes of the 2008 meltdown.
There is certainly a need for both research and discussion, including the development of curriculum around the subject of leadership, and one of the potential routes to its understanding is through individual biographies.
Who cannot read Nelson Mandela's Long Walk into Freedom, for example, and not be inspired to emulate such strength of character, such commitment to a cause, such persistence and such nobility? Unfortunately, in today's academic culture, the study of leadership will likely come down to statistical measurements of certain qualities and skills, without the necessary muscle, blood, guts and belief systems that are at the core of any leader.
There is also a danger, especially in Canada, that business leadership will be focused primarily on the generation of profit for the sake of the investor, and for the sake of the bonuses of the CEO and the human relationships and the commitment to continuous learning will focus on more and more studies of the successful enterprises whose role models were at the centre of the Wall Street debacle.
Intellectual incest infects all academic departments to the degree that those who might contribute significantly to the design of the project in Leadership at the Ivey School of Business at Western will be excluded. Representatives of the departments of History, English, Psychology, Politics, Philosophy and Ethics, not to mention Genetics, Law and Art and Design would be welcome in any discussion that the acorncentreblog.com would host or initiate. Let's hope that the leaders responsibile for implementing the design and delivery of this innovative project will include as broad a range of disciplines as possible, even some that would not fit into the "box" of conventional thinking.
A history of Leadership in various cultures, at various times over the centuries would be a welcome window into the discussions. A list of biographies, such as Michael Isner's recent work on Partnerships would also be a welcome addition to the initial bibliography for the program.
Here is an opportunity for the people who design curricula at the Ivey School of Business to reach beyond their comfort level, and provide real leadership.
Unfortunately, it was the Assistant Dean of the same school who told us, in an interview a couple of years back, that creative thinking was not being taught in the MBA program."We are teaching students to operate a system and if that kind of thinking (creative) is required, it would have to come from the corporations themselves in their own training centres."
Let's hope the donors will participate in the initial stages of the design of this worthy project, and insist that it encompass the whole range of academic disciplines. That would be an inspiration for other schools and for all corporations for a long time into the future.
And to say that there is a derth of leadership in this country is one profound understatement.