The Future Of Business Education In An Interdependent World

At the center of business education today, says Bill Boulding – dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business – lies a paradox. “There’s more of an opportunity to make positive changes through business than ever,” he says. “Business will be the transformational engine of the 21st century. Yet business leaders have never been held in lower regard than they have today. That means we have an incredible opportunity: how do we produce leaders who will be trusted and who can make the changes we need in the world?”

Boulding sees three “megatrends” that are shaping the contemporary business landscape, and which inform his agenda for Fuqua: globalization, interdependence, and disruption. As he told me during a recent interview on campus (I’m an adjunct faculty member for Fuqua’s Global Executive MBA program), “Business schools have not been responsive to the world we live in. They’re built for a world that used to exist” prior to the past decade’s rapid economic and geopolitical changes.

To adapt, says Boulding, Fuqua believes “you need to be embedded in key places in the world so you can learn about those places. It’s very difficult to learn about those differences if you sit in Durham, or New York City, or Shanghai, or any one place.” Therefore, Fuqua has invested in developing an on-the-ground presence in six international locations – its home campus in North Carolina, China, India, the Middle East, Russia, and Western Europe – and enabling students to study in multiple locations. “You’re not going to learn if you take the attitude that ‘the world comes to us,’” he says. “You have to go out into the world.”

Boulding also believes the next generation of leaders needs to come to terms with interdependence – a lovely concept in theory (our future interests are linked!) but a difficult one in practice. “What [interdependence] really means is loss of control,” he says, citing the international energy and environmental implications of Japan’s tsunami-induced nuclear disaster. “Interdependence has made for worse leadership [in some ways], with people protecting their turf rather than looking for common interests. Instead, we have to produce leaders who understand and don’t fear interdependence – who can see the potential upside.”

Finally, Boulding sees the dramatic change wrought by disruption, “which is occurring at a rate we’ve never seen before.” New skills that weren’t previously emphasized in a business school education – like collaboration and co-creation – can lead to tremendous new value.

The end result of this shift, says Boulding, is producing leaders “who can be consequential – who can see the world as an opportunity for proactive change, rather than fighting for their narrow self-interest and the status quo.” The leader of the future, he says, understands that “you’re responsible for a broader set of people than you might have assumed” and that “to help others succeed – that’s your success.” Ultimately, the way to rehabilitate the image of business leaders is to develop ones with a perspective so thoughtful and broad, they’re worthy of being followed.

This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on August 1, 2013.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.