China is facing important economic and political changes and decisions and is in need of a new type of leadership.
Until now, leaders in China were considered to be worthy of the position if they were able to deliver strong economic incentives, but as China tries to develop strategies that maintain social harmony while creating opportunities for an increase in wealth, the country needs a different type of leadership, one that is voluntarily endorsed and can be trusted to care for the interests of those being led.
Business schools in China must therefore recognise that the onus is on them to produce these new leaders, leaders who can demonstrate that they are trustworthy and worthy of the position.
How can business schools go about this crucial but difficult task?
Many students in China recognise that the global crisis is making it even tougher to lead companies in ways that embrace the notion of contributing to the development of a sustainable economy. For some, the current situation may actually be creating anxiety as they fear that their economic prosperity may shortly be over. For such students short-term thinking and pragmatism may be further up their to-do list than rethinking their leadership style. Any change of mindset, however, is fuelled by first raising awareness of the problem. Business schools have a responsibility not only to make their students aware that the culture is changing but also that they – as future leaders – can play a part in shaping this culture and create a different style of leadership, one that recognises the importance of creating long-term value.
Faculty staff have to increase a sense of awareness among students that material and human resources need to be managed in different ways. They must help students realise that free-market principles do not provide sustainable forecasts once it becomes clear that those resources have reached their limits.
This in turn leads to a change in mindset; Future leaders need to understand the motives and values of those they wish to lead. Business schools need to support this shift in mindset by promoting a vision of business success as a transformation process based on mutual trust between the different stakeholders involved.
Acknowledging and implementing these insights in the core curricula will add significant value to the impact that Chinese business schools can have on their local business leaders.
Rather than relying on a leadership ideal that fosters quick growth by means of a finance-oriented approach, China may find itself in a unique position where it is confronted with the possibility of transforming leadership in ways that can truly enhance the ability of people to regulate their behaviour and decisions towards a more sustainable economy.
David De Cremer is a professor of management at Ceibs