Top 4 Reasons Why MBAs are the Worst Leaders

Bad Leaders or GoodHave you ever been surprised when people react to something you said or did? Have you ever said something funny (at least you thought so) only to have nobody laugh? Sure, we all have.  Well, I sure was surprised by the many comments and tweets to my post Why MBAs are the Worst Leaders. It was way more than what I expected. I suspect this post will garner even greater attention and tweets.

The response was so diverse and opinionated that I began to ask myself, is there a common thread to make sense of all of this emotional energy? Not sure if it means anything but most of the reaction was from people agreeing that employee engagement and leadership skills were poor in MBAs. Many people took the time to write first-hand stories of their experiences.  

In reviewing these comments, and researching more on Dr. Mintzberg, it’s easy to understand why he’s one of today’s most controversial yet respected thinkers. I also watched an interview of Dr. Mintzberg by Ricardo Semler, at MIT Sloan School of Management ( .  Jokingly, it was said in the interview the working title was Why MBAs are Useless.

In review and reflection of all of this material, I was able to derive four main points as to why MBAs may be the worst leaders to the people that shared their experiences. 

1. It’s their personality: Everybody knows certain types of personalities are more attracted to different types of professions. We even recognize this in our children and we’ll say, “Oh, your daughter is so good with little children, she will make a good teacher someday.” We do this for all types of personalities, with both children and adults. Dr. Mintzberg even mentions that MBA programs are for analytical people that learn analytical disciplines (Marketing, Accounting, and Finance). Here is a fact; analytical people do not use emotions to drive their actions. They are not attuned to human needs and feelings as well as non-analytical thinkers. Unfortunately for them leadership development is relationship development and their internal mental wiring puts them at a disadvantage.

2. It’s the education system: I have to agree with Dr. Mintzberg here when he states that you can’t learn leadership in the classroom. Leadership resides within the relationship between the leader and the led therefore; you must be in collaborative workplace relationships to gain experience. Learning different theories of leadership does not make better leaders. Yet many institutions spend thousands of dollars marketing the message that you will be a better leader with our program. Try to tell yourself… its just marketing.

3. It’s the expectation: Many hiring managers make quick work for themselves if they hire an MBA. You know business; we need that…you’re hired. Its low risk and easy work. After all, MBAs are expected to perform at a high level, which includes leading people (the marketing materials said so). And when some of them can’t, the led will be more critical. “You suck as a leader and you’re an MBA?” Gosh.

4. It’s Wall Street: Dr. Mintzberg states in the interview, “Shareholder value is against human values.” Wall Street rewards short term stock appreciation and gives no respect to senior leaders trying to build long-term success. They also single out CEOs instead of recognizing “the team.” Does Wall Street reward humane corporations? Does Wall Street promote phony and detached styles of leadership?

Dr. Mintzberg challenges conventional wisdom and I like that. He also draws connections to the current state of leadership that has everybody losing trust in leaders of all types. Do you see that we are at a tipping point or do we have further to fall?

To get deeper insights on managing relationships and a plan to avoid common pitfalls of the publicized leadership crisis made by political, academic, and corporate leaders get your copy of the free eBook titled Averting the Leadership Development Crisis now.

7 Responses to Top 4 Reasons Why MBAs are the Worst Leaders

  • My husband has an electrical engineering degree from UVA and an MBA from Indiana University and the best education from “the Army” as he often says.

    He is a wonderful leader:
    *He leads our family.
    *He is a great example of studying hard, working hard and setting a good example. Yes he has an analytical mind and is currently taking a systematic theology class just for fun! He has a dry sense of humor and he is a wonderful communicator. He teaches at a community college for fun as well and I have seen some of the notes his students have sent him. They respect him and the notes always thank him for helping them when nobody else has been able to.
    His “real” job is in the medical device business and he is a respected leader and friends with the other leaders and coworkers. You are wrong about at least “some” MBAs.

    • Barb,
      He sure does sound special. Sure hope his unique abilites allow him to be rewarded in all ways possible. An admiring wife sure is a great one. Thanks for sharing your experience. Jim

  • Ever taken a psychometric evaluation that made you say…hey wow that’s me and I’m nothing like the other types shown here? Course not.

    That’s because we all have ‘shades of grey’ personalities and they can alter according to our age, experience and particular situations.

    The same goes for Leadership…..some people have a gift, some learn the art of and others pick up the reins because no-one else will. There’s no denying there are bad leaders as well as good leaders with bad intentions.

    Transformational leadership programmes are great at building the relationship development, empathy and confidence to lead, because they reach into an individuals values and beliefs system and make emotional rather than academic connections.

    So, all you MBAs’ – don’t hang up your boots yet!!

    • Sue,
      Thanks for your comment and sharing your insights. That’s exactly what we covered in our free webinar today. Keep the boots on!

  • Whoa, there! I’d be offended if I wasn’t so amused by this generalization! There are MBAs and there are MBAs. There are MBAs in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources, and there are MBAs in Marketing and Finance. There are MBAs who use their degrees to leave their mark in the for-profit world, and those who use their degrees to further the missions of nonprofits. The degree doesn’t make the person — nor does it dictate the kind of leader you will be. As an MBA, I use my analytic skills to help me figure out where my employees and clients are coming from, so I can best foster a good relationship with them. In fact, I have seen the failure of people who rely more on their emotional side, because they may fail to consider that their emotions are fueling the situation, or they may mistakenly attribute their own feelings to the other. Rather than attributing it to the degree, consider the individual. Generalizations can be dangerous.

    • Susan,

      I agree, the degree doesn’t make the person and the degree doen’t make a leader. Using the analytical skills is also what drove the creation of the Satisfaction@Work Index. Leveraging those analytical skills can help with building workplace relationships…you need the know-how. Generalizing, or theororizing leadership is dangerous as well. Thanks for your comments.


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