There is no doubt that the impact of China’s one-child policy, probably the most ambitious social engineering effort the world has ever seen, is far-reaching.
Discussions about the controversial policy have highlighted a number of issues and outcomes – from forced abortions to factory labor shortages – and what it means in terms of supporting China’s rapidly aging population.
There are drastic social implications as well. The concern is that the massive increase of single-child families is producing a generation of self-centered “little emperors” and “little empresses.” More than 90% of all urban children and over 60% of rural children have no brothers or sisters as a direct result of the 1978 policy.
It is inevitable that only-children experience certain things differently from children with siblings. Discrepancies in social dynamics and personal development mean that the one-child policy will have a significant impact on the country’s future leaders, and also the way China’s business world is run.
As such, business schools must do their part to find a way to help shape this unique demographic into responsible, people-savvy leaders. While it’s difficult to measure the true impact of the one-child policy on China’s new generation, many fear the emergence of leaders characterized as self-seeking and socially awkward.
One of the oft-cited issues with only-children is their lack of social exchange, compared with children who have siblings. Business schools must therefore help students develop the soft skills of leadership and cooperation. While subjects like management theory, economics and financial strategy are all vital to an MBA education, it’s no secret that business success depends on effective communication and intrapersonal skills. More courses and modules should focus on helping students acquire an understanding of how to lead an organization and manage others effectively.
Furthermore, there are concerns that the one-child policy will lead to a more selfish generation – a result of single-children commanding more attention in their homes and being fawned over by their parents. The danger is that this may lead to overconfidence and feelings of superiority.
This can, and must, be checked. In the past, MBA programs around the world centered their leadership development on confidence and individual strength. But since the start of the financial crisis, business schools have had to take a different approach, teaching students to be more introspective and to think critically about the big picture.
Overconfidence can be blinding, and China’s management education must do more to instill in future leaders the importance of probing what’s happening around them in both academic and business worlds.
Educators can play a significant role in shaping the country’s managers and top executives to be thoughtful thinkers – leaders who have the ability to make decisions that benefit all stakeholders, not just themselves.