Published: 01 Apr 2015

The education of the next generation of business leaders

The following is the English version of an article published in March 2015 in the leading financial monthly Bankovnictvi

The aim of this article is to elaborate upon the changes that are facing the business leaders of the future and possible ways to address their changing education requirements. Dynamic changes resulting from the volatility of business environments together with exponential technical and social changes, due to rapid developments in technological advances, are creating unique pressures upon business leaders of the future. There is an increasing recognition that such leaders need to develop adaptation, innovation, and responsibility as key character qualities if their leadership skills are to be successfully employed in such complex business environments.

With the business environment constantly changing, perhaps best described as ‘volatile’, the leaders of tomorrow are going to be faced with increasing complexity in the market and society that they will deal with, and will therefore need to develop the necessary skills and aptitude to not only face new challenges, but to harness them effectively to survive and grow in what is becoming a complex and highly interconnected environment. Yet, these challenges will not only demand the ability to respond effectively, but to be able to respond in an ethical and responsible manner meeting the needs of complex groups of a multitude of stakeholders.

The increasing complexity of financial markets and economic environments has led to a change in the management and delivery of higher education. The focus of education provision needs to explore the difference between education and learning. It is evident from the skills currently being taught in business schools that most of the time education has been focusing on the delivery of “know-how”. The knowing focuses on how to attain the best possible ways of carrying out a particular set of tasks, such as developing an investment model to meet the needs of customers and aiming at getting this right or creating profitable business models. However, it lacks a proper meaningful assessment of its wider consequences. This focus tends to emphasise solely the acquisition of the best skills amongst students to attain the final results, and as a result, teaching methodologies are geared towards such effectiveness. Therefore, such learning is transmitted to students and future business leaders, providing a unique vision of the world in which performance is judged as the attainment of the final result, and it is a paramount valuable criterion that gains importance.

However, environmental complexity demands another important element that education will need to take into account: the “know-why” mode of knowledge. Knowing the reasons why the skills are being applied effectively to reach desired ends is a process of self-reflection, a process that explores the motives of why the “know-how” is effectively implemented. This process allows one’s values to be assessed in an exploratory manner and motivates the development of responsible elements of one’s character that the first processes of the application of “know how” does not necessarily allow.

The educational approach undertaken at the Prague College School of Business kinesthetically enhances a process of education and learning that actively aims at both the “know-how” and the “know-why” modes of knowledge to create future leaders capable of different styles of leadership.

Classically, leadership can be conceived as a process that involves the ability to influence others and motivate them to reach a common-oriented goal. In this respect, new leaders will be able to meet the requirements of perpetrating changes that foster relationships and accompany ethical burdens and implied responsibility. The “know-why” mode of knowledge will allow to grasp the full meaning of ethical implications and responsibility by allowing a different perspective, a “shift of mind”, to undertake new business models, including a new level of financial and managerial engagement between firms, organisations, and societies. The new style of leadership based on trust will play a central role in developing relationships with employees, to support them in their growth and their future development. Trust is conceived as an authentic behaviour to be implemented in daily activities where the principle of justice as fairness will be the key criteria for addressing problems and solutions. Thus, authenticity, as a degree of independence from external pressures and factors, will be a character trait developed and subsequently emerging from a highly interactive learning environment.   

Future leaders will be challenged by different obstacles, as previously detailed; on one side, the implementation of new business models capable of meeting the needs of future generations, and on the other side, the constant pressure of profit-driven models aiming at the maximisation of value with a short-term viewpoint. While the first side of the challenge will require an awareness of undertaking long-term development, the second side will address the capability of managing effectively the allocation of resources and the commitment to flexibility and adaptation to cater for the constantly changing business environment.

Thus, the conflicting requirement-horizons will not only offer opportunities to future leaders and add another dimension into the complexity of the business environment to be explored, analysed, and adopted effectively; but also ethical decision making processes will take on paramount importance, and the needs for sustainable balance will require to be established within the networks of stakeholders and their ever-growing conflicting interests and influences.  

To conclude this article, we note that dynamically adaptive and flexible ethical leadership qualities that will actively discern between the need for “know-how” and “know-why” with knowledge of when to apply such skills will be of paramount importance for future business leaders. Following in the footsteps of Aristotle, we can emphasise that such adaptive skills will need to be ingrained in the character of future business leaders via the adaptation and delivery of changing educational requirements that should find the right balance between the different modes of knowledge which characteristically should represent higher education. 

Stefano Cavagnetto, Bruce Gahir and Dave Gannon