As I have read the blogs of fellow NIBS leaders and friends about the possible challenges we business schools are facing, have faced or might be facing in the world of education and business, I cannot help but think about those who are expected to carry out all these changes: Us. Humans. Since the very strength of NIBS, which differentiates it for 27 years from other international organizations, is a combination of human relations, bonds and even friendships, let me take the humanist path.
It does not take a rocket scientist to know that people in general are not so much in favour of change. We, especially people in management, all welcome change, but, preferably not in our neighbourhood…
In the following thoughts I would like to take an internal perspective of the challenges, and reflect upon the responsibility and dilemmas leaders of business schools are having in these days of crisis. Like it or not, define it anyway you want, these are days of crisis for many reasons. And as has been discussed in previous blogs here in this site so well, this is not only about the crisis which was caused by the virus. We knew, and talked about it a lot, that IT IS COMING.
What came to my mind as the best, and often used, metaphor of this situation is sailing. Leaders of any kind in business schools can feel like captains whose compass was destroyed and the map became outdated. Or in a more modern setting: your GPS software is not valid anymore and there’s nobody around to update it for you. You are there with your crew looking at you: ”Where do we go from here Captain?”
One of the early rock and roll poets from the 19th century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who most certainly used substances to see clearly in troubled times put it in his famous work ’The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’
”Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.”
Uncertainty takes over. With all the challenges of remote teaching and home office working, our colleagues, although to a different degree, are all in desperate need of guidance or seemingly firm hands at the wheel of the ship. But the problem seems to be that the sea and the weather have changed dramatically, the good old sailing tricks might not work anymore. So there we are, the captain and the crew with only past experience, but having no map or albatross around anymore, facing a foggy and misty horizon of the future.
One way of responding to this uncertainty, which happened quite a few times in history and is a leadership principle, that larger-than-life, know-all leaders would provide THE ANSWERS. From the Eastern-European perspective we witness(ed) many examples of that response. Strangely enough this behaviour is often cherished by the followers. Although we have sailed a long way and from different (Prussian) harbours of higher education in this region, the question remains the same: what is expected from leaders of business schools in these dire times?
Having worked in the knowledge industry, if I may label higher education as such, I do not think that could be a good answer from captains, who evidently lost the map and the compass is broken. We have colleagues, whose knowledge and experience is their asset. It does not seem a wise decision to mislead them. The crew are aware that we are sailing unchartered waters.
However, the guaranteed uncertainty cannot lead to an emotional downward spiral. It does take courage and bravado to steer the ship to a new, seemingly unknown direction. It might sound cliché, but either you have trust in your people and mutually they have trust in you or you are doomed. You will see neither albatross nor shore.
Based on all the success (and some failures of course) we experienced together, we should all sail out for unknown seas. I am convinced that the very strength of NIBS, the above-mentioned personal bonds, which anybody can easily recognize upon the first encounter with the members, should serve as an extremely solid basis for leaving the safe harbours - because we have to! The honesty which is present in the network, comes very handy when finding the new map and recovering the compass. Let me express my gratitude to all members, founders and presidents who have built this ship so strong!
Let me conclude my thoughts with the words of another rocker of his time, Mark Twain, who unknowingly set the motto for NIBS long before its existence. It should give us the hope and strength and most of all the courage to keep sailing despite all the risks.
“… so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.“
Fair winds and following seas, my friends in NIBS!