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Journal of Management Development
Visionary leadership in business schools: an institutional framework
Granit Almog-Bareket
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Granit Almog-Bareket, (2012),"Visionary leadership in business schools: an institutional framework", Journal
of Management Development, Vol. 31 Iss 4 pp. 431 - 440
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Visionary leadership in business
schools: an institutional
Granit Almog-Bareket
Downloaded by UNIVERSITAET OSNABRUCK At 07:01 10 February 2016 (PT)
Mandel Graduate Unit, Mandel Foundation-Israel, Jerusalem, Israel
Purpose – Recent decades have seen a change in the environment of business schools. These changes
place great responsibility on deans as the leaders of schools to act. To date, there has been a dearth of
literature dealing specifically with visionary responses on the part of the deans of business schools to
those changes in the institutional environment. The purpose of this paper is to address the most recent
institutional pressures in the business education field and present a framework linking it to the
visionary leadership deans may demonstrate.
Design/methodology/approach – This paper is conceptual in nature and bases its analysis on
institutional theory. The use of an institutional lens offers a new perspective on possible visions deans
may lead and on the nature of their leadership.
Findings – The article proposes an institutional framework of visionary leadership in business
schools and suggests that vigorous visionary leadership among deans is required in order to generate
a unique school identity and reputation. The paper concludes by outlining steps leaders can take while
shaping their vision in order to create a unique organizational identity.
Originality/value – The institutional framework has a central place in organizational and
educational literature. So far, the literature has not dealt with the links between institutional theory
and visionary leadership as a whole, or in business schools in particular. The present paper addresses
this gap and offers new insights for researchers and practitioners alike.
Keywords Business schools, Leadership, Change management, Institutional theory,
Visionary leadership
Paper type Conceptual paper
The organizational environment of business schools has been undergoing change in
the last few decades. Recent years have witnessed increased national and international
competition among business schools (Lorange, 2005). This transformation has
created an academic environment that is characterized by a highly institutional nature
(Thornton, 2004). Institutional theory views organizations as open systems, thus
stresses the relationship between organizations and their environment and the mutual
influences between the two (Scott, 2008). The theory emphasizes the social foundation
of organizational decision making, and focusses on the manner in which environmental
norms impact the conduct of an organization embedded in the context at hand
(Meyer and Rowan, 1977). Institutional theory identifies legitimacy as a main motive
for these actions and changes. That is, organizations, especially those operating in a
field with no solid technological knowledge base, strive to legitimize themselves to
assure their survival (Meyer and Rowan, 1977). Legitimacy provides organizations
with better access to resources and support of the internal power groups within the
organization (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). However, institutionalized actions are not
always effective and do not always cause the specific organization to stand out
Journal of Management Development
Vol. 31 No. 4, 2012
pp. 431-440
r Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/02621711211219086
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from the rest (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983; Meyer and Rowan, 1977). The decisions to
embrace or reject such institutionalized actions are first and foremost part of the
organizational vision.
The literature on organizational vision suggests that it is directed both inward and
outward. Vision should provide the members of the organization with an inspiring,
clear, and stable picture of the future to which they can strive (Nanus, 1992). And at the
same time, organizational vision should be the mark of the organizational identity in
the eyes of customers and external stakeholders (Katz, 1999). The literature highlights
that the responsibility for shaping the vision, while taking into account various interorganizational and external considerations, lies with the leader (Nanus, 1989, 1992).
Therefore, the formulation of an organizational vision is designed to integrate the
leaders’ vision with the vision of the other members of the organization. The leader’s
role is to identify, organize, and give meaning to important information in order to
create a picture of the future. The present article aims to address the most recent
institutional pressures in the business education field, and present a framework linking
it to the visionary leadership deans may demonstrate.
Changes in the environment of business schools
To date, research on business schools has focussed on the following issues: imparting
theoretical and operational knowledge (e.g. selection of candidates, the curriculum, and
evaluation); producing research knowledge (e.g. the function of infrastructures, the
staff of researchers, and how discoveries are made); the social and professional profile
of the institutions (e.g. the socio-economic characteristics and training of researchers);
and identifying students who use academic knowledge (socio-economic profiles of
students, their achievements, and their aspirations). It is only in recent years that
universities, business schools included, have begun to be perceived as organizational
entities whose decision-making practices and structural properties are a worthy topic
of research (Thys-Clement and Wilkin, 1998).
This situation can be partially attributed to the relatively stable environments in
which academic institutions functioned, where they were ensured of funding, and
competition was limited or nonexistent. In recent years, however, there have been
dramatic changes in this environment. For example, the university system has had to
grapple with major changes in sources of funding (Thys-Clement and Wilkin, 1998). As
the share of government funding for higher education has declined, business schools
have become increasingly dependent on fundraising and donations (Cummings, 2011).
The economic crisis in 2008 precipitated further cuts in funding to business schools,
which necessitated extensive cutbacks and rationalizations (Thomas and Thomas,
2011). The intense competition for budgets caused these institutions to become even
more dependent on tuition fees as a source of funding, and there has been increased
competition for enrollment of students (Cummings, 2011). In recent decades, there has
also been a dramatic increase in the demand for MBA studies, which has been
accompanied by an increase in the number of institutions offering programs in this
field (Daniel, 1998; Ivy and Naude, 2004). In 2006, the MBA degree was the second most
popular degree in the USA (following an MA degree in education), and about onefourth of all Master’s degree students in the USA have graduated with an MBA degree
(Herrington, 2010). Moreover, in light of the budgetary priorities of the supervisory
authorities and the students’ expectations of the learning experience, business schools
face additional constraints, which include employers’ expectations of graduates
and considerations regarding the importance of fields of knowledge and research
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(Thys-Clement and Wilkin, 1998). As a result, business schools today operate within a
changing, dynamic organizational environment.
Furthermore, attempts are being made to standardize the curricula and scope of
academic programs in order to promote mobility among students in European
universities. For example, 45 countries are involved in the Bologna process, which aims
to create a European region of higher education that will allow for mobility among
students and faculty between different countries in Europe (Cardoso et al., 2008).
Similarly, efforts are being made to establish an Ibero-American region, which will
include institutions of higher education from Spain, Portugal, and South America
(Brunner, 2009). This also affected business schools that belong to a university system.
Moreover, field-specific standardization processes have influenced stand-alone
business schools.
Over the last decade, there has been an increasing trend toward accreditation
of curricula and institutions in the field of business administration. For example,
the EQUIS program of the EFMD currently includes 130 institutions in 38 different
countries (www.efmd.org), and the AACSB program currently includes 620 institutions
in 38 different countries (www.aacsb.edu). The advantages of accreditation include:
first, standardization of institutions and programs according to uniform criteria, which
serve as a threshold for selection and reflect the level of the institution and its
programs. These standards are uniform, in that they focus solely on the consistency
and coherence of programs (Cornuel and Kletz, 2011; Kletz, 2009); second, evaluation of
the school, and improvement of its quality (Urgel, 2007). Interestingly, the process of
accreditation has led to two opposing trends in the academic world. Regarding the first
trend, the popularity of accreditation creates an institutional environment that exerts
pressure on academic institutions and departments to adopt and preserve the practice
of obtaining accreditation certificates.
These certificates affect decision-making processes, and promote existing
tendencies toward isomorphism (Gates, 1997). As a result, in order to minimize the
requirements for uniformity, there have been attempts to create brands in the process
of accreditation for different categories of schools that specialize in specific areas
(Urgel, 2007). However, branding can cancel out the isomorphic effect of the accreditation
process. Regarding the second trend, the increase in standardization and institutional
isomorphism, as along with the market of selection and competition, have led some
business schools to develop a distinctive competence that differentiates them from their
competitors. In so doing, they seek to emphasize the added value of their institution and
its programs as well as the unique professional identity of their graduates and the
knowledge and skills that their students will acquire in the process of training, which
cannot be obtained elsewhere. In light of these environmental developments, business
schools have had to redesign their visions. In this regard, schools’ deans as leaders play a
pivotal role.
Vision, visionary leadership, and business schools
In the past decade, the word vision has been used frequently by educational, social, and
business organizations as well as by individuals. Vision derives from the Latin word
meaning “to see.” Many scholars have attempted to define vision, and have related
to organizational vision in particular (e.g. Allen, 1995; Bennis and Nanus, 1985;
Chance, 1992; Manasse, 1986; Senge, 2006). The content of “strong” and inspirational
vision is optimistic. It expresses confidence, addresses intrinsic needs, connects to
organizational values, and introduces positive future challenges (Berson et al., 2001).
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Nanus (1989) claims that a vision must embody inspirational ethical principles worthy
of commitment, and Bennis (1989) even assumes that there is a connection between
organizational vision and social improvement.
Vision is a tool to motivate employees, create long-term partnerships, to produce the
appropriate resources, and enable the organization to change over time. Vision presents
a complete metaphor based on a system of basic assumptions whereby leading values
are translated into rituals, language, and symbols (Katz, 1999). Vision connects to the
heart of people and stimulates people’s emotional commitment to the organizational
strategy (Bennis and Nanus, 1985; Senge, 2006). Here, too, the journey that begins by
connecting people’s hearts to a product that is an emotional commitment to the
organizational strategy. Organizational vision describes an ideal state; the gap between
the present state and the ideal state is what motivates people to work (Yoeli and
Berkovich, 2010).
Deans of business schools are constantly at conflict with themselves over
whether to preserve the institutional core of activity or to transform it in order
to remain relevant (Zell, 2005). However, they must bear in mind that
business schools today face a competitive environment (Lorange, 2002); thus they
must be demand oriented, listen to customers and corporations and initiate changes
when required (Lorange, 2005). Roueche et al. (1989) found that vision underlies
the ability of leaders of academic institutes to change the face of their institution,
and that successful leadership creates a broad and committed partnership on
the part of the entire institution to the organizational vision. Similarly, Neumann
and Neumann (2000) found that the most successful leaders of academic institutes
were integrators, who combined vision, a strategic organizational focus and
transformative implementation. This naturally leads to questions of how
institutional leadership can shape an organizational vision that will lead to success
and greatness.
An institutional framework of visionary leadership in business schools
Lorange (2000) suggested that the responsibility of business school deans to set new
promising directions for their schools boils down to making choices. Oliver (1991)
suggests that there are five strategies that an organization can choose to embrace in an
institutional environment:
defy: in which the organization actively opposes the external pressure
and ignores it altogether. This reaction may cost the organization its
avoid: in which the organization does not want to adopt the environmental
rules but on the other hand wishes to seem legitimate and thus embraces
symbols and rituals without really changing its core activities;
acquiesce: in which the organization “blindly” embraces and follows the
external norms. Thus a correspondence is created between the organization
and environmental requirements;
compromise: in which the organization is aware of the environmental demands,
but is also aware of the problems that embracing the demands may arouse, so
it negotiates with the environment; and
manipulate: in which the organization attempts to control the environment
using various kinds of influence tactic, such as “divide and conquer.”
Thus, it can be suggested that nowadays deans can choose from one of the five
vision strategies: defy, avoid, acquiesce, compromise, or manipulate. The five strategic
responses converge into three types of leadership:
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conservative visionary leadership, which chooses to reject institutional
demands and preserve the organizational status quo by either defying or
giving an appearance of complying. Thus, this leadership pursues a classic
vision that can cause the institution to lose its legitimacy;
calculated visionary leadership, which chooses to accept institutional demands
and attempts to excel at fulfilling them. Thus, this leadership attempts to be
the best at what is considered environmentally legitimate; and
vigorous visionary leadership, which chooses to fight institutional demands
either by negation or by manipulation. These leaders manage to balance
institutionalized demands and achieve legitimacy and at the same time achieve
a degree of freedom to experiment and innovate.
The framework is displayed in Table I.
Conservative visionary leadership attempts to put off changes and thus maintain
the organizational core intact. Some business schools have taken this direction, and
several have remained committed to this approach. The reason for this lies in the fact
that the culture of higher education, into which business school leaders are embedded,
is characterized by conservative patterns of thinking and administration, and a
tendency to preserve the status quo (Taylor and De Lourdes Machado, 2006). However,
deciding to rely on its past reputation may threaten the prosperity and survival of the
institution (Ivy and Naude, 2004).
Calculated visionary leadership attempts to adopt institutional elements, which
are well acknowledged by the environment, so that the organization can maintain
its legitimacy. As a result, many organizations imitate, adopt and internalize, and
isomorphic processes occur as competing organizations become increasingly alike
(DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). Owing to the stiff competition, academic institutions
are often hesitant to adopt an organizational model that focusses on attaining a
unique identity and competitive advantage, rather than adopting a universal model,
because they are afraid of sustaining losses as a result of the change (Davies and
Glaister, 1996). Hence, many institutions are left without a specific focus, and have
not developed a distinctive organizational identity (Davies and Glaister, 1996; Mackay
et al., 1995).
Vigorous visionary leadership addresses external institutional demands and at the
same time attempts to create a unique identity. In this regard, the difference between
calculated visionary leadership and vigorous visionary leadership can be explained by
the work of Collins (2001). Collins conducted longitudinal research that studied the
transition of 11 good companies to excellence. He concluded that the organizational
Visionary leadership type
Possible strategies in an
institutional environment
visionary leadership
Calculated visionary
Vigorous visionary
Compromise Manipulate
Table I.
An institutional
framework of visionary
leadership in business
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transition depends on leadership as a central component. Collins points out five levels
of leadership. Leaders at the four bottom levels can produce high degrees of success
but cannot elevate organizations from mediocrity to success. Collins (2001)
differentiates between the level 4 leader “who catalyses commitment to a compelling
vision and higher performance standards” to the level 5 leader “who builds enduring
greatness through paradoxical combinations of personal humility plus professional
will” (p. 31). Collins deliberates regarding leaders’ ability to reach the highest level in
the hierarchy of executive capabilities.
Although both types of visionary leadership on the part of deans can propel
business schools to success, it is only the latter that can make a school great. Lorange
(2000) argued that dynamic business schools can choose one of three options to create
“mass production,” thus increasing the number of students;
“mediation through a network,” thus bringing people together and creating
elite clubs; and
“unique problem solving,” thus enabling customers to access processes and
solve unique problems they were unable to solve on their own.
Hence, all schools face the same strategic options, but the vision that directs their
policy is directly linked to organizational identity. In light of the competitive
environment in business education (Lorange, 2002), it would appear that institutions
should make a concerted effort to develop a distinctive competence that differentiates
them from their competitors (Canterbury, 1999; Coats, 1998). In the context of academic
institutions, pedagogic distinctiveness is particularly important. Strong vision
provides a basis for branding and enables the organization to match its own
identity with that of its potential client population (Taylor and Nichols, 2010). Thus,
only a unique vision can shape a clear organizational identity and create a strong
reputation. Reputation is an assessment of an organization – based on observers’
awareness of an organization’ identity, as communicated by organizational members in
an effort to shape observer impressions (Barnett et al., 2006). Positive assessments over
time create a reputational capital that enhances the organizational competitiveness
(Vidaver-Cohen, 2007).
Summary and conclusions
Today’s higher education market has increasingly become a global one (Hemsley-Brown
and Oplatka, 2006), in which competition for funding, donations, and potential
students is fierce (Conway et al., 1994). This has become the predominant situation for
business schools. Moreover, the economic crisis has raised questions regarding the
responsibility of the academia. The Economist (2009) argued that the teaching at
schools of business administration lacks a long-range vision, is not based on formal
knowledge, and does not emphasize the development of critical thinking. Therefore,
these institutions bear considerable responsibility for the economic crisis. Similar
arguments in favor of reform in institutions that train graduates in the field of business
administration have been put forth in the literature (e.g. Currie et al., 2010; Datar et al.,
2011). This situation requires the deans of business schools to show flexibility, to reexamine their basic assumptions and structures, and to consider broad reforms while
using their imagination and creativity.
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Most business schools have a similar mission and goals. However, in the present
climate of global competition, business schools have to develop a competitive edge.
This begins with leaders who are driven by personal vision and who seek to promote
an organizational vision that will result in a new organizational identity. Research
findings have shown that successful leaders in business schools are those who
integrate a strong vision with a strategic focus and transformational spirit (Neumann
and Neumann, 2000). Therefore, strategic planning should begin with the formulation
and promotion of a vision. Leaders can only formulate a vision that responds to the
questions: “What is our dream?” and “Why do we exist?” after they have engaged in a
comprehensive exploration of their values and have seriously committed themselves to
those values.
Leadership at its best creates a new reality from ordinary materials through
vision (Nanus, 1992). In order to develop vision, leaders today should “look around the
corner” and embrace changes as opportunities (Bennis, 1989). Visionary leadership
recognizes the social climate in which it lives and works, takes risks, and succeeds in
transforming the vision into details (Chance, 1992). Successful leadership notices what
is currently happening in the organization, evaluates what is most important for the
future and focusses organizational activity accordingly (Bennis and Nanus, 1985).
Leadership provides bridges from the present to the future. While managers operate
on physical resources such as capital, skills, and technology, leaders operate on
emotional and spiritual resources such as values, commitment, and ambitions
(Bennis and Nanus, 1985).
What then can deans do if they choose to be vigorous visionary leaders? Thomas
and Thomas (2011) offer viewing leadership as a learning process. Similarly, Lorange
(2010) asserts that leaders grow, and that the leadership skills set can be acquired,
either through formal training or through on-the-job experience. Embracing this
perspective enables us to start the discussion on a proactive note. The next few
paragraphs will outline several recommended steps to assist deans that strive to lead a
vigorous vision in their schools.
First, Zaleznik (1992) argues that a successful vision is first and foremost a product
of an active imagination. It is commonly assumed that successful vision starts with the
leader. That is why it is important that visionary leaders be internally committed to
proactive leadership (Chance, 1992). True vision is based on a personal concern that is
derived from an individual’s values and aspirations (Senge, 2006). This commitment
and concern derive from a personal connection to the organizational vision. Similarly, it
has been suggested that business school deans reflect on their motives and desires
before setting a strategic direction (Thomas and Thomas, 2011). At the same time, it is
important that the picture of a leaders’ vision be left ambiguous in order to enable a
lively and dynamic leadership process (Zaleznik, 1992).
Second, deans must analyze their organization and environment so that they can
make “intelligent” strategic choices (Thomas and Thomas, 2011). The analytical
process required by leaders of academic institutions was broken down by Keller (1983),
who suggested three internal dimensions that the leaders of academic institutions
should take into account:
institutional traditions, values, and aspirations;
institutional strengths and weaknesses; and
leadership abilities and priorities.
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In addition, Keller suggested three external dimensions:
environmental trends: threats and opportunities;
market preferences and directions; and
the competitive situation: threats and opportunities.
Third, Lorange (2000) stressed that successful strategizing involves balancing
different viewpoints and forces. The deans of business schools have limited power;
consequently, their ability to set a direction for the school relies heavily on their ability
to build coalitions and to persuade faculty members to support the vision (Lorange,
2000). Lorange (2000) asserted that academic leader ought to focus his or her activities
inside the institution, thus enabling the leader to acquire faculty members’ support and
promote a shared vision (Senge, 2006).
To sum up the recommendations, only when change processes are supported by a
dean’s commitment and integrity can a dean forge collations based on trust, advance
his or her vision (Fraguiero and Thomas, 2011), and form true vigorous visionary
leadership. Such leadership simultaneously addresses institutionalized external
demands (by compromise or manipulation) and promotes novel ideas that have the
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Corresponding author
Granit Almog-Bareket can be contacted at: [email protected]
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