Universities aim to prepare future leaders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2011, 12:00am


From the global economic crisis to the nuclear disaster in Japan - and the problems surrounding the West Kowloon Cultural District - leadership has been put under the microscope. Are good leaders born or can they be cultivated? If so, what role can postgraduate education play?

According to Carol Stephenson, dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business, who co-authored the book entitled Leadership on Trial, there were good leaders during the economic crisis who were able to steer 'their organisations clear of many of the excesses and poor practices that got others into trouble. This has tended to be ignored in the popular media'.

She says research conducted by Ivey supports the view that good leadership is about the 'competencies, character and commitment' and how leaders use these attributes in making decisions and then implementing them within contexts that are changing.

Considering the problems surfacing in Japan, regarding earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear facilities, what lessons are there in the role that leadership plays in how these challenges are faced? What does this say about accountability? Could better planning have avoided some of the problems?

'Corporate crisis readiness and contingency planning are often neglected due to finance and knowledge constraints,' says Professor Hilton Chan, adjunct assistant professor, department of information systems, business statistics and operations management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's business school.

'Some companies developed contingency plans, but never conducted drill exercises to ensure the plans were practicable and effective. Businesses should identify staff who have creative quotient and 'exception handling' competencies, regularly review the business contingency plans and perform drill exercises, and embrace crisis readiness measures.'

Businesses that overlook crisis management do so at their peril. The crisis in Japan is an example of what can go wrong.

'Crisis management involves risk and threat assessment, contingency planning, information and communication management, disaster restoration, intelligence gathering and analysis, media relation management, incident response and operation co-ordination, and log management,' Chan says. 'Log management and documentation is important for post-crisis public inquiries or legal litigation and accountability studies.'

So what are the implications for business schools? 'Business schools should consider offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and executive training in crisis management with topics in risk and threat assessment, scenario planning, creative problem-solving, communication skills, information and intelligence management, business contingency planning, disaster and major incident response, public relations and media management, crisis operation planning, data visualisation, crisis negotiation, and legal issues,' Chan says. 'As the 9/11 incident, I reckon there will be post-crisis inquiries [into the crisis in Japan] when more information is disclosed.'

The West Kowloon Cultural District has been beset with difficulties from the start. The abrupt departure of its CEO, Graham Sheffield, after five months is just one example. But some believe that the project could serve as the impetus to turn Hong Kong into an educational hub for training in art and cultural management in the region.

Several institutions are launching programmes in the discipline, and at least two - the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Hong Kong Institute of Education - are doing so at the postgraduate level.

HKU's advanced cultural leadership programme will lead to a master's degree. It will be the first programme of its type to be offered in Asia. It is designed for applicants with at least five years of leadership experience at a senior level in the arts or a related field. Younger applicants with outstanding potential might be considered.

'It aims to provide outstanding cultural leaders with the practical skills, intellectual perspectives and global networks needed to seize new opportunities, strengthen their organisations and deliver a world-class vision,' says Daniel Chua, head of the school of humanities, HKU, and director of the programme. 'It's not a must for applicants to have a background related to arts. Our programme welcomes applicants who have a minimum of five years leadership experience, with a significant track record in the cultural sector, or related fields, such as professionals from media (TV/radio), film, education, architecture, etc.'

The one-year programme will comprise short but intensive course modules. 'Such concentrated periods of high-quality teaching and small group tutorials will foster innovative thinking, while bringing the participants and faculty together to form a network of shared expertise, and provide an environment for customised learning and personalised consultancy,' Chua says. The programme will help participants to form a powerful network in the cultural sector.'

The programme is attracting keen interest from key cultural figures throughout Asia.