PROF. FRANK SCHULTZ, FACULTY MEMBER – STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP, HAAS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
Entrepreneurial school of hard knocks
Prof. Frank Schultz (Faculty Member – Strategic Management and Leadership, Haas School of Business) tells Shishir Parasher that young entrepreneurs today need not be taught too much business, or else they will be too afraid to take big risks and challenges
Issue Date - 01/07/2012
Aleading authority in competitive strategy and executive leadership, Prof. Frank Schultz has teaching experience spanning over two decades. He has also worked for Fortune 500 companies such as IBM, Chevron and Pillsbury. Prof. Schultz’s research on deliberate practice has received recognition from the Academy of Management in the United States and he is currently working on his book, ‘Deliberate Practice: What Individuals and Organizations Can Learn about Outstanding Performance from Top Performers in Sports, Science and the Arts’.
Q. You have experience in both corporate and academia. Tell us about the transition.
A. The difference I saw was that the academic field is a world of thought, whereas business is a world of action. During my stint with IBM and Chevron, I realised that I like business. However, there was not much opportunity to analyse things – you have to be out doing things.
When I was in the sales department at IBM, I could not be at my desk, thinking about how to increase sales. The branch manager would expect me to talk to the customers and focus on sales.
The transition into academia turned out good for me because here one is rewarded for thinking and analysing.
Q. Is academia matching the standards of corporate world? Are students prepared for the corporate grind?
A. Too much of preparation at the business schools might make them poor entrepreneurs because we teach them analytical skills.
If you are an entrepreneur, you just need to get out, do something and see what happens. If the focus is too much on the analytical skills we teach them in business schools, they might not even start their business.
A good entrepreneur is one who can see the opportunities and move ahead with them. If they face problems, they are excited to make the product or service better. Instead, students need to learn important concepts such as understanding customer expectations and venture funding. They need not be taught too much business, or else they will be too afraid to take big business risks and challenges.
Q. Hass School of Business has special courses on young entrepreneurs. How important are such courses?
A. The traditional entrepreneurs are those who had not gone to college, but had learnt by doing things. They would figure things out eventually, though there might have been a little pain and suffering along the way.
For student entrepreneurs it is still challenging, as they do not know if their idea will work. But over the years there are things we have learnt about entrepreneurial best practices that we are trying to communicate to our students to speed up their entrepreneurial process and be successful in their endeavours.
Q. What unique qualities do you see in young entrepreneurs?
A. They are bold, courageous, sassy, free spirited, and never take no for an answer. Successful entrepreneurs do not listen to no and that is what has made them successful. I would get depressed if someone refuses to give me the money required for a work. Good entrepreneurs, however, will get excited and work harder to get that money. They will work on the reasons for being denied the finances, so that another does not say the same.
Q. The world today is facing leadership dearth. Can leadership be taught or it is an in-born talent?
A. In my opinion, about 80 per cent of it can be taught and 20 per cent of it may be in-born, which develops over time. As leadership is all about leading teams and people for a common goal, if you do not know anything about interacting with people, no matter how many courses you take or how many leadership opportunities you have, you can never become a good leader. As long as you like people and have some reasonable ability to interact with them, the remaining 80 per cent can be taught.
Q. During crisis what should be the ideal role of a leader?
A. For taking decisions, we often talk about situational leadership. When I teach leadership, I talk about how leaders need to develop a toolkit of skills that they can use in a particular situation. At the time of crisis, leaders have to step forward and make decisions. This is the time when people look up to their leaders. As a leader you have to be comfortable in making decisions under uncertainty. And you should be prepared to take decisions with whatever information is at hand.
Q. Your forthcoming book is on deliberate practice. What motivated you to choose this topic?
A. I was trying to understand the distinction between outstanding and average leaders. When I was doing PhD, I found in my research what is the difference between a top and an average athlete or what makes a top scientist versus what makes an average scientist.
Many lessons that you have learnt in other fields are out there, it is just that these have not been applied in business or in leadership skills.
Q. What is the difference between skill development and deliberate practice?
A. The basic idea of deliberate practice is that you cannot have any weakness to be a top performer. It is an intentional effort to improve upon your weaknesses and become a top performer, for the latter needs to be good at everything. The focus is always on improving the weaknesses. Why we do not do well in organisations is because the leaders are not provided with feedback.
If you look at any top cricket player, he has in front of him all kinds of statistics on his performance, but a leader does not get the required feedback. Most organisations might have an annual performance review, but for developing leaders organisations need to provide frequent feedback on areas they are doing well and those they need to improve upon. Individuals who aspire to be one of the best leaders in the organisation need to get more comfortable asking for feedback.
Top performers in fields other than business rely on different mentors, expecting to learn from the collective wisdom of others. But in organisations, it is expected that an incumbent should not be asking any questions related to his job. Rather this practice of being coached should be practised in organisations. A leader instead of telling people under him or her what they should be doing, should mentor them and help them develop their skills.
Q. What components are required in strategic decision-making?
A. I think the critical things required are long-term view – not just thinking about what organisations need to do next week or next month, but where the organisation will be in five years. The other aspect is having a more holistic view of the organisation in order to see how different components need to work together; how the pieces fit together for the work. It is important not just to have an internal focus, but an external focus as well because it helps understand what is changing in the external landscape.