Locating ground water with Dowsing Rods, Illustration from French newspaper Le petit Journal , 1913 (Photo by Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)
Water companies' use of dowsing rods to help locate pipes and leaks is just one examples of modern management and leadership based on superstition, credulity and blind faith

Welcome to the FT Business school newsletter, a weekly serving of management wisdom, reading recommendations and business-related challenges. FT subscribers can sign up here to receive the newsletter by email every Monday. If you have feedback about FT Business school, please email bschool@ft.com.

Andrew Hill’s challenge

The FT’s management editor sets a weekly test of your business, strategy and management skills.

News that some water engineers in the UK still occasionally use unscientific dowsing techniques — based on the movement of hand-held metal rods — to find hidden water pipes and leaks prompted me this week to look at other misleading management "superstitions".

My challenge this week is for you to add some examples of magical management thinking to the ones I list, from numerology (the chasing of analysts' forecasts, for instance) to hero worship. What are the worst types of credulous leadership that you've come across and how would you exorcise them from companies? Send your ideas to bschool@ft.com.

Last week, I asked whether there was anything Jeff Immelt, former chief executive of General Electric, should have done differently. Michael Watkins essentially said no: "CEOs wear out like every other piece of productive equipment," he wrote. "Over time, their ability to lead change inevitably diminishes, and a new leader must be brought in to clean [the] house and start the clock ticking once again."

My further reading this week is actually further watching. The Drucker Forum on management has released a video of the short closing address to the conference by veteran management thinker Charles Handy. It's a rousing call to arms to change the way that organisations are run, invoking Martin Luther and reminiscing, as only Charles Handy can, about his early days as a manager at Shell, when it "was a company — a group of 'companions'".

Professor's picks

Every week a business school professor or academic recommends useful FT articles.

Ileana Stigliani, assistant professor of design and innovation at Imperial College Business School, selects:

Why nobody will thank you for soldiering on at work This provides a portrait of an alarming behaviour across employees: ‘presenteeism’. Everyone knows that going to work when ill is counter-productive. Yet, as the article emphasises, ‘presenteeism is a bigger problem in the UK than absenteeism…’ Why is this the case?”

Sadly, as the article suggests, this behaviour is a mirror of the typical corporate culture of modern businesses. We work in a highly competitive environment, where taking some much-deserved time off is equated to slacking.

Students should read this as a reminder that it is important to maintain a work-life balance. Nobody will give us a medal for going to work when ill.

People power, not robots, will overcome humanity’s challenges Often, we hear about how artificial intelligence and robots can replace humans in performing most tasks.

This is, understandably, both exciting and scary at the same time. The good news is that human beings have, or can more easily develop, a secret weapon that machines do not possess, and likely never will: emotional intelligence.

If, as the article suggests, ‘caring is one of the things that is going to become valuable’, then skills such as empathy are going to become key differentiators for those who want to stay relevant in their field as automated systems proliferate.

Jonathan Moules' business school news

Once upon a time, China was attractive to the world’s top business schools chiefly as a source of overseas students. It is still that, but now it also provides MBA graduate jobs. This week I look at one of the biggest employment creators in the country, Alibaba, the e-commerce engine that in just 17 years has gone from a handful of people working from former English teacher Jack Ma’s Hangzhou apartment to a workforce of over 50,000 people.

The MBA students it hires start with a period working at the Hangzhou headquarters. But Alibaba is now a global operation, so careers with the company can take successful candidates to the four corners of the planet.

There are still many tech founders that believe a formal business education is a barrier to being entrepreneurial. But clearly this is not a view shared by those running the sector’s most successful ventures.

Ask the academics

Got a question for leading business school experts? Send it to bschool@ft.com and we will publish the best replies in future newsletters.

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