Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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Management As A Liberal Art

           Time and again I get feedback from my friends in the business community that the trait that they admire most in the graduates of the University where I teach, the University of Asia and the Pacific, is their thorough grounding in the liberal arts.  This strong foundation in the humanities, the arts, history and philosophy enables  the average UA&P graduates to be highly analytical in their approach to business problems, articulate in communicating their ideas and conversant with many disciplines that have major implications on business, such as political science, economics, sociology and ethics.  A recent singular feat of one of our graduates, Mr. Jose Romano S. Mira, reinforces this impression.  Mr. Mira is the only Asian who placed among the top ten in the Drucker Challenge Essay Contest 2013.  A holder of the Master of Science in Industrial Economics, a highly quantitative and technical specialization, Mr. Mira is the prototype of the "renaissance man" we are trying to produce.  He is at home both in the field of mathematical economics and in the dramatic arts.  In fact, he is an accomplished theater director.

          Predictably, the essay that got him into the limelight in the recent essay contest named after the greatest management guru of the last century, Peter Drucker, was subtitled "What Managers Can Learn from Theatre Directors."  Drucker unequivocally dubbed management as a liberal art in all his writings.  Mr. Mira quotes Drucker who wrote that the term "liberal art" may be broken down into the two meanings of the words it possesses:  (1) "liberal" pertaining to the "fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom and leadership" and "art" pertaining to "practice and application."  Mira then uses these Druckerian concepts by pointing out that the theatre is "generally to expose beauty through the collaboration of persons for a live stage performance."  On the other hand,  Drucker defines the task of  management as making people capable of joint performance through common goals, common values, the right structure and the training and development they need to perform and respond to change."  In the language of the top business professors of the twenty first century (say, those of the IESE Business School in Barcelona), leadership in business is essentially about setting the mission and vision of an organization, developing people, and creating a corporate culture that facilitates the mission-orientation of everyone in the management team.  In fact, as I have written in several occasions in this column, the new paradigm is "management by mission" that is much richer than management by objectives which Drucker propagated in the last century.

          Actually, without using the term "management by mission," Mr. Mira summarizes its essence when he enumerates the three lessons from the theatre for managers.  The phrase he uses is "fostering organic unity."  As he wrote in his conclusion:  "Organic unity is a term I borrow from poetry.  It pertains to the coherent grand design of a poem.  In the theatre sense, it may be rephrased as the directorial vision.  But, of course, achieving this vision is not as simple as it seems."  Then he explains the step-by-step approach to achieve this organic unity.  First, make sure you perform your task as a manager by interacting with your team.  This is called collaboration.  Then, co-creating the vision with your team allows room for improvement.  And finally, promoting shared responsibility transforms the team into committed and self-motivated individuals.  In the language of management by mission, your fellow managers and employees must own the corporate mission and vision.  They cannot just be spectators.  Mr. Mira ends his essay by pointing out that learning from the theatre director enables a manager to follow Drucker's advice, i.e. "the best way to predict the future is to create."

          Jose Romano Mira, 22, now works with the Ayala group.  He is of the same mold as the two brothers, Jaime Augusto and Fernando, who were also thoroughly grounded in the liberal arts at Harvard College where they did their undergraduate studies.   He is also one generation behind another renaissance man produced by the CRC College of Arts and Sciences then, Mr. Eric Francia, who, in the area of strategic planning and management, is the right hand man of the Ayala brothers.  It is not a coincidence that these three generations of business leaders are practitioners of management as a liberal art. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia