We Need Leaders, Not Bosses – An Interview With Guillermo Cisneros, Advantere School Of Management

Guillermo Cisneros of Advantere

What do Northwestern Kellogg, Yale SOM and Toronto Rotman have in common? They all identify themselves as Schools of Management, not Business Schools. A superficial difference, some might argue. After all, Shakespeare once asked, “what’s in a name?”

In this case, however, the name signifies a radical reshuffle of the goals and approach to teaching management at Advantere School of Management, a Madrid-based newcomer to the international stage of business and higher education.

Guillermo Cisneros is the dean at Advantere, bringing with him over three decades of senior leadership experience with the Berklee College of Music, Babson College, ESADE Business School and more than 15 years supporting the European Foundation of Management Development (EFMD).

“Today, more than ever, leadership is not just about business,” he says. “Business is a single element of what managers and leaders do – a step in their careers. We do not seek to educate more business leaders but to create challenge managers; those who can manage uncertainty, take risks and lead with purpose.”

A transformative approach to management education

Launched in the heart of Madrid’s business sector, Advantere was established through the partnership of three prestigious Jesuit-founded institutions: Comillas Pontificial University and Deusto University in Spain, and Georgetown University in the US.

Why have three universities with over five centuries of collective teaching experience decided it was time to create another school?

“Business schools were once a radical invention,” Guillermo Cisneros says. “Many branched out from the conventional education system in response to sky-rocketing managerial needs caused by the Second Industrial Revolution. But this happened over a century ago. Since then, business schools have become a staple of educational culture and it’s not inaccurate to say revolutions have been hard to come by.

“In such fixed organizations, incremental innovation is the only possible path for progression, taking small steps gradually over the years. Long-established institutions typically don’t handle rapid leaps in advancement well.” 

But Cisneros points to an increasingly volatile world that is the shape of things to come. “A slow rate of progression is only acceptable if the surrounding environment is developing at the same rate – otherwise we’re in danger of using yesterday’s solutions to try to fix tomorrow’s problems.”

Cisneros believes that Advantere’s position gives it the opportunity to start with “a blank canvas” that older organizations don’t have. Their teaching practices and course content will be informed by the expertise of the founding institutions but not restricted by deeply ingrained traditions. “The idea is to go one step further in our impact on society through management education,” he explains, “helping our students be change agents by working to create solutions to societal challenges.”

The school welcomes its first cohort of students in October 2022, offering a choice of four master’s programs in International Management, Marketing, Finance, and Talent Management. However, inter-disciplinary mixing will be common, integrating faculty and students from different programs to create multi-skilled graduates.

Advantere School of Management in Madrid, Spain

Creating the agents of change

At the core of Advantere’s mission are three principles: the desire to transform how management is taught, to create a tangible positive impact on society, and to develop students not only academically, but also on a personal and spiritual level. Cisneros believes these objectives will create an alumni network of “resolutionaries” and “challenge managers”, as he calls them. But what exactly does he mean by these terms?

“Resolutionaries will be highly technologically competent but will be above all empathetic and committed to creating a fairer and more sustainable world,” says Cisneros. “They will be able to reinvent themselves professionally as many times as necessary – taking on roles as executives, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, social activists and more.

“Becoming a challenge manager means embracing discomfort and accepting uncertainty as a natural thing in life, focusing on positive impacts, not just personal outcomes, and collaboration instead of individualism.”

Of course, he acknowledges that the shift towards embracing sustainability, diversity and equity has been widespread in business schools, which have looked to ditch the profit-centric style of business that was once standard.

However, he says the innovations in pedagogy implemented at Advantere will provide a fresh perspective on solving global issues, equipping graduates with the creative thinking skills needed to develop new solutions to new problems, enabling them to better affect positive change worldwide.

Cisneros dips into his love of music to demonstrate how Advantere’s teaching methods differ from the traditional approach.

“In classical music, education students learn to re-create perfectly what composers that died decades or centuries ago created,” he says. “This is the way future managers are traditionally educated at business schools – to apply rules, models and recipes, to re-create successful practices.

“In modern music education students have, of course, a strong technical background and preparation, but the goal and the way is learning to create new compositions that didn’t exist before.

“Virgin, Tesla, Apple, Google, and countless other organizations are transforming the world today precisely by acting outside the established rules, going beyond what is conventionally taught in business schools. Creating, not repeating,” he adds.

While Cisneros still regards the classical approach with respect, he argues that there is much to be gained from embracing the modern style of management education. Advantere does not stand alone in its commitment to creating leaders who will strive for a more sustainable future, but rather than tarmacking over ancient roads it believes the way forward is by embracing the philosophy that “paths are made by walking.”

Promoting a style of leadership that creates purpose

A spirit of collaboration played an integral part of Advantere’s launch, and will continue to be part of the school’s ethos moving forward, says Cisneros. Stakeholders, educators, corporate partners and students will all work together as co-creators shaping the course structure of the master’s programs.

To reflect how important student participation is to shaping pedagogy at Advantere, every successful candidate in the first cohort of 2022 will be credited as a co-founder of the institution on their degree certificate when they graduate.

“Students should collaborate and work together in the learning process, part of which is working with organizations of all kinds to complete challenge projects,” says Cisneros. “Our academics work in a collaborative way – we don’t have departments, which limit the integration of the learning experience.”

Though Advantere’s parent institutions have their origins in a Jesuit order, Cisneros says the school is fully open to people of every faith. “This is not a question of sharing faith, but sharing values about how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world,” he adds.

Crucial to the success of the leaders, Advantere seeks to create is a deep sense of purpose, and an ability to inspire purpose in the people around them. “Leaders should have purpose and create purpose for others,” he says. 

“It is easy to differentiate a boss from a leader. When you work for a boss, you work for them and their personal goals; when you work for a leader, you, they, and everyone else feel that you are working for something bigger than yourselves.”

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