We need to change how management is taught
Prof Mette Morsing

If you want to change management practice, you want to change how management is taught. Indeed the world is run by little else.

Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences are usually the slaves of some defunct economist . . . It is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.

Management schools are one of the most significant global forces for shaping the ‘ideas’ that transform the world. A few years ago, Dean of Harvard Business School, Nithin Nohria, again reminded us about the huge responsibility upon us as educators of the future generation of the world’s leaders to set a tone for those ‘ideas’. He said that:

Today’s business school students who don’t identify and correct what they are doing wrong are tomorrow’s chief executives making the same mistakes with a large company.
Nohria, 2019

There is much evidence that there is still a scarcity of leaders in the world who are sufficiently knowledgeable, competent and willing to move corporate decision-making towards progressing societal betterment at the pace and direction needed.

A recent report on CEO success revealed that today, for the first time since 2007:

More CEOs had to leave their job due to ethical lapses and misconduct (39%) than due to poor financial performance (35%) or conflicts with the board (13%).
Rasche, 2019

Through education, profound norm-setting, and ways of analytical framing of problems and solutions, and not least role-modelling, thousands of business schools around the world educate future business leaders every day about how to navigate in global and local markets: how to manage, what to decide, and whom to impact.

We are in the midst of a context of some of the historically most dire global challenges where international businesses and global business associations are urging us as management educators to transform our programs to deliver the kind of leadership that the world needs.

Business is expressing a need for leaders who are able to generate purpose, ethics, system-thinking, trans-disciplinary innovations, and societal impact. Yet, business schools seem slow to transform curriculum, pedagogies and incentive structures to develop those leaders.

The basic assumption in the business school programs is still one of market growth, shareholder supremacy and short-termism.

One of the most important criteria for ranking our own institution, the business school, is the pace with which our alumni’s salary increases a few years after graduation. It is bound to create what some have labelled a ‘me-first’ attitude.

As business school professors we need to rethink the ideas we teach and the ways we bring these ideas into the classroom.

Below I suggest five central areas to guide a debate for how we as business schools and professors need to rethink the ideas and methods we bring to our students as we educate them to become the future leaders the world needs.


We need to change the definition of business success.

The current narrative permeating language and criteria for success is one of shareholder supremacy, limitless growth, short-termism and the business manager is presented as the warlord, awarded for ‘winning the battle’, ‘attacking the enemy’, and ‘conquering the market’.

Management scholarship has, a long time ago, established how words are performative for action. It is not indifferent how we talk about problems and their solutions. It sets a direction for how we make decisions and act.

There is a need to rethink how we may create a business vocabulary where success is related to societal betterment, system-thinking, collaboration and co-creation.


We need to put society at the centre of the stakeholder model.

In most of the current business curriculum, the corporation is at the centre of the stakeholder model, as if the world regards business as its focus for global development. What if we put society at the center of the stakeholder model? Allowing businesses to be one of the many important agents doing their best to promote societal betterment? How would the curricula in finance, marketing, accounting, operations management, organisational theory etc. have to be changed if the purpose of these disciplinary subjects is to generate societal betterment?


We need to surface inspiration for societal impact from the Global South.

We know from prior research how the North American business school has served as a source of inspiration to instil pride and professionalisation of the role of ‘the manager’. In the context of rising inequalities, climate change and humanitarian disasters, that are often very directly experienced in the Global South, business schools operating in these regions of the world very often generate benefits and societal impact for the local communities directly.

Maybe now is a good time for schools in the northern regions to learn from these experiences and gain new insights for how business schools may contribute to societal impact in the Global North.


We need to train future leaders in more than cognitive analysis. Most of us teach our students in the way we were taught ourselves. We are ‘profess’ing’. That means we stand in front of the students talking, telling them what the texts they have just read mean, and then at the end of the semester, we test the students’ ability to repeat and imitate what we taught them. And then we hope that our students will get a good job and be those innovative, imaginative leaders the world needs to solve the global wicked problems.

Maybe it is time to reflect on our pedagogies and rethink how we may advance more than the cognitive skills of our students. Maybe we need to think how we may bring social, emotional and creative skills into the classrooms of management education.


We need to develop a context where our students have agency. Much education of future leaders leaves the students as passive listeners in the classroom or in front of the screen. Maybe the professor will ask a few questions towards the end of the session or invite the students to ask a few questions, trying to engage the students. There is no globally agreed on definition of student agency.

A recent OECD report highlights the importance of student agency and defines student agency as ‘the capacity to set a goal, reflect and act responsibly to effect change. It is about acting rather than being acted upon; shaping rather than being shaped; and making responsible decisions and choices rather than accepting those determined by others.’

The OECD report refers to studies that show how students, when they are agents in their own learning and they play an active part in what they learn and how they learn, they show not only greater motivation and wish to pursue the objectives for their learning, they become better at ‘learning how to learn’.

Maybe we need to re-imagine how we can create settings in our business schools where we encourage and assess such student agency progression.

Professor Mette Morsing is Head of PRME Principles of Responsible Management, UN Global Compact in New York. PRME is the UN’s largest initiative on responsible management education with 800+ business school signatories. Morsing has, since 2020, led the initiative which focuses on leadership education.

She will be joining us for the Gourlay Ethics in Business Week from 22–27 May 2022.