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Managers Not MBAs

a book review

product linkManagers Not MBAs
sub-titleA Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development
authorHenry Mintzberg
date reviewed2015.06.18
genreBusiness (Management)

This book serves a scathingly critical review of the problem of turning the world's organizations over to MBA's. The author portrays MBA's as having taken an absurdly slanted form of analytical training at the wrong point in their career (the beginning) and attempting to solve management problems with this inapplicable tool-set.

It's a persuasive argument, especially when Mintzberg portrays today's business problems as transcending narrow analytics in a portion of the business. Mintzberg's alternative is to focus on training management, and it's here that I think the author strikes gold. Several business writers over the decades have identified the need for a highly skilled management capacity in explaining success ranging from the US late but victorious entry to WWII (Peter Drucker) to overcoming rapidly shifting business environments (e.g. Chip Conley). But Mintzberg does a fine job distinguishing between a career spent learning the ropes in management on the one side, and an MBA's training on the other. To summarize: you can't teach a well-rounded manager with the correct depth of skills, they have to learn by doing, by learning the business, learning leadership skills, and yes applying analytical skills when appropriate (which is rarely).

It's here that the book deviates from all of that into a lengthy discussion of developing a management syllabus quite unlike the MBA but equally, in my opinion, stilted and narrow. A program at McGill university in Montreal – developed in large part with Mintzberg's guidance – is examined but it's hard to reconcile with the message that the most crucial skills aren't coming from a classroom.

In short; the first 2/3 of the book are quite good; the final 1/3 on how to fix the problem not as great.

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rand()m quote

In the wake of 9/11, we [in America] have made the decision as a society that we can never again create something in which we can take pride, for fear that someone will destroy it. Moreover, we must suppress any trace of individualism, lest someone have the desire to rise above the bland sameness that protects us. I have, alas, no idea how to recapture our courage.

—Anonymous post to boingboing.net, 2009