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Leadership lessons, or are MBA courses any good?

Note: This article was originally published at Planet PHP on 10 October 2010.
Planet PHP
Article originally from rooJSolutions blog
And now for something different.. I have a friend doing a course at HKU on Leadership, and with the feedback I'm getting, the course might just be missing the plot a bit.
From my side of the fence, ever since I gave up on my Masters, I have been generally dismissive of post-graduate courses at Universities. There was a serious sense of 'If you can't do it, teach it..' (or now if you really can't do it, blog about it..). My sense is that there is a reasonably large body of acedemia that suffers from the fact that they are kept on board as a result of quantity of research publications. They however they do not appear to understand the principles behind teaching (which teacher training wonderfully encapsulates). I wonder if tutors at university should be required to undertake a teacher training course, rather than slowly migrating from research into tutoring.
Along with all this, I wonder if the type of students these course attract are the exact opposite to 'self-learners', and are more used to a spoon feed education, especially here in asia.A
Anyway back to the subject at hand. HKU was teaching a course based around a Harvard case study about a climb of mount Everest resulting in a number of deaths. The students are given the course material and are asked to produce a short piece explaining it and illustrating their ability to extract the leadership lessons that caused the failure.
This is where adult reading (not the picture kind) comes in handy. In Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers, a chapter is dedicated to an interesting study of plane crashes, and pilot assertiveness. If you read the book in the wrong way it appears to sensensionalize the idea that different countries and cultures have different levels of assertiveness which lead to greater crashes with pilot's of different countries. While this inference tends to lead to great press and I presume book sales. It is not really the message that come accross if you read it in detail.
In essense the book points out that individuals (and perhaps to some degree culturally based) are less assertive, in that they feel unable due to their role in society of workforce to assert their opinions. In the case of the pilot's it was the quiet mention that there might be a small issue with the weather. In the case of the climb it was more a case of Doctor's not asserting the seriousness of health issues, or the sherpa's inability to express that they where concern with various issues about the trip. All these would have likely been non-fatal if both communication had been clear and strong, and the subordinates had felt comfortable in the life threatening situations in overriding the leaders actions.
From the sense I got, the course was being taught on leadership, but unfortunatly learning that there are problems occuring with these type of situations has very little to do with leadership, and more to do with realizing that assertiveness training is an essential part of senior management, and more essential in situations which may be life threatening.A
What is worse is that the course dynamic's of putting groups into teams and tasking them with these studies looks like it is a perfect example of why failure happens. Rather than using the course to entrench this positive assertiveness it basically leaves the groups to their own devices to produce a result and does not monitor their interaction trying to illustrate the individual's in the groups own abilility to assert their opinions. AWould this type of couse not be better taught better with some kind of situation based role playing and instant feedback.A