Henry Mintzberg of Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University has been shaking up the world of business education for decades – perhaps most spectacularly with the publication of ‘Managers not MBAs’ in 2004. Although aged 76, when many might be more interested in the garden than the boardroom, he certainly isn’t done yet. So what can biz ed’s top maverick teach his fellow academics (and the in-house comms professionals wary of loose cannons on the deck) about how best to use the media for the benefit of themselves and the schools they work for?
Although an obvious statement, many still fail to pull it off in practice. Mintzberg is the master of the ‘big idea’ and of communicating it clearly and consistently. He doesn’t waffle or side-track, avoids overly-academic jargon and, above all he is definite. Nobody is ever in doubt about what he believes and why.
An iconoclastic approach is great for attracting attention, but people will want a solution to be offered rather than just nihilism. Mintzberg may spend a lot of time and energy attacking conventional MBA programmes, but he is also clear about what business schools should put in their place.
Any academic who wishes to use the media to build their reputation should be encouraged, but they should not forget who provides the right working environment, the high calibre students and the monthly salary – their school. Mintzberg always cleverly avoids the fact that his school has one of the MBA programmes he so strongly criticises, however, he is a passionate advocate of its ‘alternative MBA’ programmes such as the ‘International Masters in Practicing Management’.
The educated public may buy into strong, well-constructed arguments, but that’s only half of the recipe for success. What makes an academic really successful in the media is their personality. Henry Mintzberg may be best known for his reputation within the business education sector but he’s also happy to drop into any conversation that he is a keen off-piste skier and canoeist, that he writes short stories and collects beaver sculptures. All this makes readers and listeners much more likely to engage, as his true personality shines through alongside his ‘biz ed guru’ persona.
So, to truly benefit from the media, be clear and concise in what you say, when criticising offer alternate solutions rather than just pessimism, don’t attack those who support you in your position, and finally, open up to show your true character – don’t put on a façade of seriousness all the time in order to look professional as engagement levels will suffer as a result.
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