The managers and leaders of the future face emerging challenges and opportunities that require new skills, specialist expertise and a fresh perspective to address – and the three key pillars for MBAs looking ahead are responsibility, sustainability and inclusivity.
All of these concepts have come from a problem-based approach, looking around and thinking how we can do business better, how we can do it differently, examining what the challenges are that businesses are facing: whether it is a changing workforce, whether it is a changing community, whether it is climate change. Whatever the problem, they are all pillars that can help develop a mindset to address it.
Instead of giving quick little one-off solutions, what MBAs should be trying to do is to build attitudes around responsibility, sustainability and inclusivity, so that as the problems change and evolve – and they will – our managers and our leaders are equipped to respond to them. Such an approach enables students to make the ‘right’ decisions as business leaders; decisions that ensure the best outcomes, that consider our environment, wellbeing, opportunity, risk and so much more. Ultimately, MBA students should be offered the opportunity to challenge themselves, to transform themselves into the leaders the world needs.
Let’s take a look at these three key factors.
When we talk about responsibility, we often talk about responsible leadership, and it is essentially being responsible to employees, to consumers, but we also need to take into account suppliers, and the community where manufacturing plants sit. It is about expanding the concept of responsibility so that companies are not just responsible for profit or productivity, and not just concerned about the shareholders, but rather they are actually responsible to that much larger group of people.
That leads to the issue of sustainability. Sustainability is deeply rooted in that concept of climate change – and that is absolutely key: we have to be more responsible to our planet or we are not going to sustain our lives. But it is moving beyond that, and we are looking at how we can make organisations sustainable in communities. Sustainability means organisations must sustain themselves, must think about acting in ways that are resilient and agile, such that employees and companies are not placed in vulnerable positions. We understand the importance of being profitable – that’s also being sustainable, because if you don’t make a profit, you’re not going to be around for very long – but if your only guide is making a profit, then the chances are you are going to cut your nose off to spite your face. If you pull out of a community, and leave that community devastated, then the ripple effect will ultimately impact your ambitions. It makes good business sense to be sustainable within communities.
Inclusivity is less often considered, but it must be taken into account. We are seeing the highest-ever levels of human migration; companies, even local SMEs, are already global, with global reach, global supply chains; and we are working in increasingly diverse communities. We have to recognise that it is not enough just to include token representation in decision-making, we actually have to create workplaces that are inclusive. People’s voices must be taken seriously, a diverse workforce created, and various elements in organisations – from the supply chain, to consumers, to product manufacturers – listen to and given influence in decision-making processes. One of the things that the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated is that when we listen to more voices, to those who know, who have a perspective that we don’t have, then we make far better decisions. The benefits of inclusivity are enormous, but we have to be smart about it – issues around equality and diversity have been treated as bean-counting phenomena, but that’s not inclusivity, that’s just numbers. We’re talking about being smart leaders, listening to various groups.
Lancaster University MBA
At Lancaster University Management School (LUMS), the MBA puts students in a position to tackle these key issues head on. We work with the renowned Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business and the Work Foundation, the leading think-tank for improving work in the UK, building understanding of the issues across organisations and society, and developing mindsets to achieve responsible, sustainable, and inclusive outcomes. What works in one place won’t work everywhere. We have to have these mindsets to help us think in terms of responsibility, sustainability and inclusivity, as opposed to saying ‘here’s a plan that you can implement across the globe, that will work in every situation’. Our students come from so many different places, so the one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to work. If we think critically and with these principles in mind, then our MBA leaders can go into a variety of workplaces and cultures and do what needs to be done.
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