Cultivating Great Leaders or Great Changers? The Different Missions of Business Schools

In a recent post, I waxed poetic about the meaning of culture from a sociological perspective and applied it to business school in my typical post-meta ridiculous.  (That’s a self-referential joke about being silly that is in itself not even that silly.)  I made a distinction between schools that promote the achievements of individuals versus those that promote the impact one has on society.

I wanted to delve deeper into this idea, to explore the mission and vision of different business schools to see what kind of comparisons we could draw. The way I see it, all schools fall along a spectrum between the two. Leadership has a purpose, and the question is whether schools are cultivating businesspeople to be Great Leaders or Great Changers.


Some schools report the stellar accomplishments of that individual to illustrate the ability of the school to draw out one’s potential. Others praise the influence they’ll have on business and people through dynamic leadership.  And yet others emphasize the social impact that a visionary will have thanks to a robust business education.

Admittedly, this distinction might be somewhat arbitrary and meaningless, but there’s still a question for me of whether schools are seeking to help one achieve one’s potential as a good unto itself or as a means to achieve societal impact. I’m sure all schools want to see us make a difference, but on a philosophical level there’s the question of what schools emphasize in their alumni–meaning who they are and the many amazing roles they’ve played or what kinds of things they have accomplished as a cohort.

To make my position clear: I believe all these mission statements represent lofty goals, and there is a fundamental linkage among them. It’s just a different way of framing the value of the MBA, which I find very interesting.  Below I am quoting from each school’s mission statement to demonstrate where they appear to sit along the continuum.


Wharton: “…to build and share the knowledge needed by individuals, businesses, and public institutions to excel….”

HBS: “… to educate generations of leaders who have shaped the practice of business…”


Haas: “…to develop leaders who redefine how we do business…”

Kellogg:  “… to educate, equip and inspire leaders who build strong organizations…”

Stern: “…to develop people and ideas that transform the challenges…”


Stanford: …”to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world…”

Yale: “…to educate leaders for business and society…”

MIT: “…develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world..”


Obviously these lists are far from comprehensive, but it’s interesting to see how schools frame their programs.  At the end of the day, accomplishments are achieved by individuals (within groups) and those accomplishments will have an impact somewhere.  It’s just a matter of the emphasis, whether it sits on the side of the self or the impact.  It’s important to do good and be good; it’s just a matter of which part we’re going to remember!The other thing to note is that mission statements are like the US Constitution.  They may guide us, but the practice of our society evolves and reinterprets the mission.  I love how Berkeley has expanded its Mission statement into value statements as well that really permeate the school.  It’s really cool to see a school intentionally develop a culture. I haven’t heard of this practice as much at other schools and I would be really curious to hear how other schools proactively develop a vision for their students.In other news: I got an interview invite to Yale today and I am so excited to visit New Haven!

Sassafras is a 29-year-old MBA applicant who works for a San Francisco-based non-profit organization with a primary focus on youth development and education. With a 730 GMAT and a 3.4 grade point average from a highly ranked liberal arts college, he currently blogs at MBA: My Break Away? His previous posts for Poets&Quants: