Posted in: thought leadership

31st March 2023

Why future-fit business leadership matters

By Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of The B Team

This essay featured in the March 2023 edition of The Catalyst, The B Team's monthly newsletter. Learn more and subscribe to receive leadership insights, advocacy opportunities and conversations between business and civil society leaders exploring a better way of doing business for people and planet.

The B Team was founded 10 years ago, motivated by a belief that business as usual is no longer an option. The inaugural leader collective took the first, critical steps: acknowledging the problems that “business as usual” had created and committing to catalyze bold change in the private sector.

Over the past decade, we’ve been busy catalyzing new leadership norms and co-creating a playbook that’s built to deliver a world in which we truly love where we live and work. We‘ve made progress; still, we recognize that conditions in the world have deteriorated. Leaders everywhere, including our own, struggle to keep apace with the uncertainty and complexity of the interconnected crises we face.

The answer to addressing those crises remains what it was 10 years ago: bold and brave leadership for a better world.

Yet a core challenge persists: We don‘t see enough of this leadership.

We believe it’s imperative that business schools become 10x bolder in developing future-fit leaders who prioritize people and planet alongside profit in their careers and definitions of success.

Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of The B Team

B Team leaders serve on boards and advisory councils for a few dozen business schools and higher education initiatives. They teach and guest lecture at many more. As a collective, we are committed to disrupting the conformity that characterizes the worlds of business and business schools.

It is in this spirit that I share some lessons and insights we‘ve learned along the way, while uplifting a few calls to actions to business school leaders everywhere.

  1. Go further, together. To all the brave deans out there: We understand that running your schools while striving to catalyze new approaches to business leadership is not easy. We’ve found that, by working together in a community of courage, we can prompt brave action from ourselves and others. We urge you to team up with other brave deans to drive positive transformation.

  2. Place sustainability at the heart of your school’s purpose, not as a side subject or only as part of elective courses. We know from experience that future-proofing our businesses is only possible when we place sustainability at the heart of all we do — from strategy to brand development, operations to company culture. We‘ve had to break down the silos to fully recognize the interconnectedness of our shared challenges and the solutions available. We encourage you to consider the same. Universities will achieve and deliver more impact when they holistically commit to developing all graduate students — be they engineers, scientists or aspiring business executives — into climate-competent, human-centric leaders.

  3. Embrace inclusion as a driver of innovation. For too long, business schools have engaged in exclusionary practices, much to the detriment of would-be leaders whose lived experiences have the potential to inform new approaches and creative solutions. At The B Team, we believe in changing *who* to change *how.* When we embrace gender balance and equitable representation in leadership, when we meaningfully engage across generations and the globe, when we raise our ambition to address racial inequity and build bridges among stakeholders, we are better equipped to solve problems and seize opportunities. We suggest you do the same across your leadership, faculty and student population. Inclusive business schools produce inclusive leaders.

  4. Align incentives to help deliver the outcomes we need. The business community is not nearly as good as we‘d like to be in measuring what truly matters, but we’ve learned that aligning incentives with the outcomes we want is key to long-term success. Through our own experiences, we feel there is ample opportunity to better align incentives at business schools — where, at present, we perceive an overemphasis on research output (with limited reach) and an underemphasis on the teaching and training we believe is essential to developing the leaders the world needs.

  5. Prioritize hard *and* soft skills — we need both! In a world wrought with disinformation and division, let’s cultivate talent that is equally rooted in scholarly research and the human science of catalyzing and leading change. We need rational thinkers and radical collaborators, curious learners and creative communicators, disruptive dreamers and gifted innovators. We need conscious citizens who can be both courageous leaders and humble team players, guided by an inner compass and a willingness to lead the greatest transformation in our lifetimes with urgency, resilience and humanity.

We are involved in and inspired by many brave efforts to rethink and reset business school education. We also recognize that, just like with business at large, change is not happening at the speed and scale required.

Jean Oelwang, B Team leader and founding CEO of Virgin Unite, and I recently met with 800 business school deans at the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business​​ (AACSB) conference in San Antonio, where we heard loud and clear that students of all ages desire, and are demanding, change. We also heard that financial incentives (and sponsors!) often get in the way of change. Several deans expressed frustration that the private sector is not sending the right demand signals. Some said the majority of business school recruiters and headhunters continue to work from an old playbook; many rightfully point to the fact that accreditation and rankings do so as well.

Finally, we are frequently told that resistance lies with the faculty itself, particularly in the field of finance. While this may be true, we must move beyond excuses and finger-pointing and toward the creation of bold space for dialogue and re-design.

It’s time to be 10x bolder in educating the leaders the world now needs.