Monday, May 5, 2014

Learning How to Manage

By Pascal Dennis

Like many of you, I was lucky enough to go to a professional school in a well-known university.

My studies were in business and engineering. Chats with colleagues who went into law, medicine, nursing, architecture and so on, suggest we picked up similar mental models and habits.

Many of my courses were ostensibly focused on ‘management’ – at least that’s what the curriculum said.

But I never learned how to manage till I got to Toyota. And then, the first order of business was to unlearn what I’d been taught!

Chatting with y’all over the years, I know my experience was not unique!

It’s hard to avoid the following conclusion: Our professional and business schools do not teach us how to manage, or how to lead.

We learn many valuable things, to be sure. In Chemical Engineering, I learned chemistry, fluid dynamics, mass and heat transfer, unit operations and the like.

I learned how to organize my time and thoughts so as to cope with difficult, simultaneous assignments and tight deadlines.

But I did not learn how to manage a team of people toward the achievement of some great endeavour.

I did not learn how to define and communicate Purpose, how to develop and deploy strategies, how to check and make status visible to all.

I did not learn how to get to root cause, and how to test for cause and effect. I certainly did not learn how to confirm countermeasures.

Don’t want to be misunderstood. I am not suggesting that our professional schools are lousy, or that we should shun them.

But I think we need to be clear about their strengths – and limitations.

You’ll learn valuable things there, but you won’t learn how to manage – or how to lead.

As the education bubble continues to inflate, and more and more students graduate carrying crushing debt loads – that’s good to know.

More on the education bubble next time.




  1. Enjoy the posts! leadership is like lean: there are 3 components to adult learning which I learned from my Sensei's - Education, exposure and experiences.

  2. Thanks for the fine comment, Julia - and great to hear from you!

    Best regards,