We had all been informed that it would be different from all other training. Was it?
“It was an exceptional morning. Not only as we went to school at 8 am (most of the days we have started around 10 am), but because we were going to the forest. For many classes with guest lectures of a high profile, you dress accordingly, most of the time business casual. I am wearing hiking clothes. And as I spend a lot of time in the woods running around with my two big dogs, there are “traces of nature” on them.
We walked up to the forest in silence. I like silence and doing a “Winnie the Pooh- walk” meaning that I just walk around slowly and without care, admiring weather, what I see, how the ground feels etc. I tried to do that now, but as we were in a group and didn’t know where we were heading, I felt the need to stay with the group and not play around too much. I was also very respectful of the silence, so I tried to do calm and minimalistic gestures.
I was soon at the tale of the group. It was OK; Logan (my classmate) has also been taking his time, and he was also lagging behind. We walked past a school, and I waved at the kids looking at us in the window. Was I allowed to wave? I was unsure. No one else saw what I did but Logan. He laughed at me in a friendly way.
A bit further up, I could hear kids in the school singing. I stopped just for a while to listen. It made me feel warm and cozy. From there, we walked into the forest, close to the school. We got the next instructions – walk around, explore. I felt excited – is this what studying management is like? Walking around in the woods in the morning just exploring things?
When picking up things from the ground, I suddenly had a tiny tiny snail on my finger. After some hesitation, it started moving, and I allowed it to get on a leaf, and from there back on the ground. I felt happy, and privileged to have met the snail. Until I realized the snot track it had left across my finger. I felt the urge to wash my hands. I ended up wiping the snot trace on my pants, looking around if anyone caught me doing so.
I continued exploring, listening to the leaf’s under my shoes, touching things, picking up leafs and trying to figure out which tree they belong to etc. I was completely occupied by all the things that little amount of forest had to offer me. So occupied, that I didn’t even notice how dirty my hands were getting. The snail snot has become quite unsignificant compared to all the other dirt on my hands at this point…”
It is a nice little story, but does it matter? So what? We went to the forest, we did a class, and now we are back to business as usual. Or are we?
Something happened during those days – it reminded me that we are a part of a bigger system. And that we, as humans, have the ability to restore, exploit, preserve, protect, and destroy this system. Note that I do not say “we have the power”. I use the word, ability. How inspiring is that?
The issues the world is facing have no easy solutions. Over-utilization of natural resources, our economic systems impact climate change, different types of pollution (air, light, water, noise), and so man other things, all of which are widely debated. How does this link to management or leadership?
As managers, we have the abilities all humans have – to restore, exploit, preserve, protect, and destroy systems. We have a choice of being aware of the system, visualizing what it should be like, using our imagination to challenge current systems, and the responsibility of acting. But what does this mean? Is it more walks in the forest and leaving the business casual clothes at home.
The answer is simple. YES. As managers, we need to become more aware, not only of things being good or bad for humankind (Aristotele) but more deeply aware that things are good and bad at the same time, depending on your perspective for different stakeholders and parts involved. For a long time, managers key responsibility has been caring for humans; now it is time to also care for the good of the planet, our home. I call this conscious decision-making.
For a long time, there has been criticism of current management education. The UN Global Compact launched the PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education) to urgently develop management training globally. Management education has been criticized for creating Enron cases and other scandals discussed in the media (Goshal, 2005). But this goes, deeper in my opinion, much deeper.
The real challenge has been in placing ethics and responsibility at the heart of education, rater as additions to the existing programs (Wilson and McKiernan, 2011). We teach problem-solving skills to students, assuming this knowledge can be transferred “free of values”. This is not the case, and there is much research that supports this argument (e.g. Freire 1972). We as humans function as a whole, and our reflexivity forms our understanding of problems at hand. We need to explore our reflexivity and our understanding of the world as one system in order to make more conscious decisions.
When knowledge is transmitted, values are transmitted as well. Hence, it becomes increasingly important to develop techniques that support exposing these values in a safe surrounding where a polyphony of values and reflexivity is allowed to co-exist and be explored. *By focusing on our own actions, we can better understand how we construct and make sense of things happening around us (Freire 1972). This is vital if we are to move the world toward a sustainable one – unpacking and challenging the way we currently make sense of it.
I can write much more on the issues with the current management education. But that is not helpful. Helpful is the realization that things are changing. We went to the forest, we meditated, we explored the world where chimps were bosses and beehives our parliament. And the most difficult part for me – we discussed with strangers what breaks our hearts.
Clearly, we are getting more conscious and bold in looking at the whole system and becoming more aware of our larger role as leaders. We are approaching a point where a leader has the role of the whole system we are a part of, not only the company or the people, or even more horrifying, themselves. Things are changing, and we are changing.
So, will a walk to the forest and a 4-day class be enough? No, unfortunately. We are out of tune with the whole system. A walk in the forest, a speed course on nature-inspired leadership or a walk by the lake will not fix it. But it is a great place to start. It is the only place to start.
We need to add sensitivity and awareness of the larger system we are a part of, expose and explore values and constructions of realities, patterns of decision-making today, to form more conscious decision-making in the future.
And when successful, I guarantee, the world will be a beautiful place we all want to be a part of.
“Piglet: How do you spell LOVE? Pooh: You don’t spell it, you feel it” – Winnie the Pooh
Freire, P (1972): Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.
Goshal, S. (2005): Bad Management Theories Are Destroying Good Management Practices. Academy of Management Learning & Education, vol. 4, no. 1 p. 75-91.
Wilson, D., McKiernan, P. (2011): Global Mimicry: Putting Strategic Choise Back on the Business Agenda, British Journal of Management, vol. 22, p. 457-469.