This may be in the category of pop science but we believe there could be some truth to it.
We blahgged recently about trends in the bschool landscape focusing on specific new faces in the deans’ offices at certain top schools.
As we did the research on that post, looking at the “About the Dean” pages on many school websites, we were struck by the differences — and couldn’t help but be reminded of some studies that are related. Here’s some contradictions for you:
- From USC Marshall: Narcissistic CEOs and Financial Performance: Study Reports Higher Stock Prices and Earnings Per Share if the CEO is Narcissistic (July 24, 2014)
- From HBR: Size Does Matter (in Signatures): Companies led by CEOs who have large signatures—an indicator of narcissism—perform worse than ones led by CEOs with small signatures (From the May 2013 Issue)
(It’s likely not going unnoticed that both of those studies came out well in advance of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.)
The tl;dr of those articles, especially the second one, is that indicators of narcissism, as exhibited by a large signature on a company’s annual report, or (first link) the size of the CEO’s photograph in that report or — we’re extrapolating here — on the company website — can give an indication of corporate performance. Those headlines appear to be citing contradictory results (the first study is claiming higher stock price; the second article discusses lower results compared to peers; they may or may not be measuring the same things though).
What we do know is that how a school presents its dean is a reflection of the person who holds that office at the school at least as much as it is a reflection on the school.
We also have strong experiences that anecdotally cause us to claim (without a known study or direct proof to back it up) that whoever is leading an organization is imbuing their character and values throughout the entire place.
If you have a narcissist at the top, then that creates one type of culture.
That doesn’t mean everyone there is a narcissist; in fact, it’s unlikely that you’ll have two narcissists operating in close proximity or sharing power in any meaningful way. Having a real narcissist at the top means that that person is sucking all the oxygen out of the air and it’s highly unlikely they would tolerate the antics of another narcissist in their midst. More common is that the narcissist surrounds him- or herself with astute and flexible types who know how to manipulate the narcissist in their own right — but who probably aren’t technically narcissists themselves. It’s too difficult for two of that type to co-exist peacefully.
And certainly we’re not claiming that any bschool dean is cut from the same cloth as the current so-called leader of the free world (ugh).
But it can be an interesting exercise to go wander through the pages of “About the Dean” at the schools that you’re interested in.
Here are some questions to ask (Pro Tip: If you’re really interested in this exercise, you might even want to jot down notes of your perceptions and first impressions as you navigate through each of these steps on any particular school’s site):
1. How easy is it to find this page? When you come to the first page of the school’s website, are you presented with information on the dean straightaway? A link? A picture? Or do you have to go hunting through the menus to find it?
2. When you find the menu system where the “About the Dean” page is located, how is it organized? What message do you get from the actual structure? In what way are they presenting the public with info on the dean, versus info on the school, and/or the entire leadership team as a unit?
3. When you go to the About the Dean page, what is your first impression? What is being emphasized? What do you get front-and-center when you first view the page? How are the design elements used? What is the size of the headshot — and how many photos overall do you see of that person when you browse around on the site?
4. You can do the same thing with the school’s social media, and with the dean’s professional social media if he/she has any. What do they post about? What do they want their audience to think about them? If they don’t have a visible social media presence, does that say anything meaningful? It’s likely a deliberate decision if they don’t, which on its own merits is not positive or negative, but it could be something to think about.
School websites are obviously developed through a myriad of minds; some schools use the same marketing platform and so their sites tend to look quite similar to one another, and the design choices that an individual school has within that software platform is thereby constrained. All schools have teams who produce the website, from the IT perspective down to the layout and navigation, and certainly the content that appears on each section and often each page is frequently written by different people across the functional units. So it’s not like the dean is the one who made the decisions on how the whole site is constructed or the messaging behind any individual component.
But you can bet for certain that the dean’s office is responsible for the content and presentation of all the information on the About the Dean page and probably that whole “administration” section of the site.
Clearly EssaySnark has opinions and impressions on individual schools and the respective deans running them, and we’re not going to contaminate your own possible first impressions if you decide to run this experiment for yourself. We are DEFINITELY not claiming that any school leadership is incompetent or that there is rot at the top of any of these business schools. We are by no means insiders and we’re not commenting on competence or ability. We’re just talking about how the schools are presenting themselves, and one perhaps interesting angle for you to examine as you go about your task of researching programs.
We would never suggest that a BSer not apply to a school based on who’s sitting in the dean’s office — heck, we even tell you not to be prejudiced against a school based on a bad experience with admissions.
But yeah, we have opinions.
If you’re really interested in the human side of business, then investigate for yourself what the school is about. When a school talks about culture and community, see if you can poke around under the hood and find out for yourself what that might mean. How are they walking their talk? What are their priorities? There are lots of ways to learn about the target of your interest beyond simply accepting the statements that they make at face value.