Today I spent my entire day talking to prospective employers and companies looking for talent. Are they particular? Yes. They want agile, flexible, skilled thinkers who are problem solvers. They want talent that can work in a team setting too. In this economy, these employers can afford to be picky. They want it all and the top talent at JU can be their answer to getting it all.
I’ve heard a lot from these employers about social cues and listening skills. But the most important factor in the future success of a manager is their willingness to gather opinions and feedback from their teams, apply problem solving skills to the tasks at hand, and work well with a wide variety of people when markets go topsy turby.
Some graduates can write succulently and clearly, thereby successfully persuading others to consider their evidence, viewpoint, or recommendations. Others can deftly compile, manipulate, and analyze quantitative data to create a data-rich argument. With these two skills under your belt, a little creativity and emotional intelligence can take your career to an even higher plateau. Combining these skills are critical to becoming prepared for leadership opportunities. In interviews with 21 Jacksonville entrepreneurs and employers, every company highly valued these skills in choosing their successors.
What makes something meaningful to learn in college? When the information or tools you learn help you develop a process by which you can efficiently solve problems or tackle important issues. If you are not practicing these skills with experienced and highly credentialed faculty mentors, you are selling yourself short. You will not have the necessary skills and traits to be an effective leader.
Here are questions you should be asking everyday: Does the knowledge or skill she is teaching me add purpose or direction to my life? Are the subjects I am working on getting me closer to finding a calling or life work? Is the coursework something that will help me be successful? Or is it just “busywork”? As Dean, I continue to teach every term to stay closely connected with our students. I consistently challenge myself to find new methods of helping students met our alumni, gain knowledge of entrepreneurial methods, and apply that knowledge so it will stick. These activities involve follow-up discussions, activities, assignments or tasks related to solving problems. Examine some of the student comments on this blog as an example of the student work in my courses.
Below is a recent comment from JU business major Martin Sturgess, “Dealing with one problem at a time and dedicating time to loved ones can keep you from quitting. Family is there for you to fall back on, maybe not financially, but emotionally. It is a proven fact that those who take time for family become more successful than those who chose to do it all themselves. So take time to have a beer or a cup of tea because the problem will be there on Monday”.
Applying knowledge is a skill; it takes time and practice to develop. All of us make mistakes and get tired or hearing “no” or “do it again”. Most of us fear failure even though it is by failure that we learn the most meaningful lessons. Ed Burr, Landmark CEO recently said, “Be careful what you dream for, you may get it”. Future leaders hear this repeated over and over and believe it can happen.
Can the lessons learned from these guest entrepreneurs really help students successfully apply the skills they honed while here at the Davis College? For most of these students the answer is a resounding “yes”. These students don’t even have to graduate in May and start a new company to appreciate this gift.
Humans have two types of memory: spatial and rote. From my experience, the difference between today’s graduates and the average 22 year-old is the future leader can apply their knowledge to solve problems–even when the relevant facts are embedded into a complex problem or challenge. It is analogous to the ability to solve a quantitative word problem instead of a straight computation.
It is also the reason JU’s graduates so many successful of President’s and SVP’s such as Mike Shad (Automotive Dealerships), Carole Poindexter (Baker), Jim Dalton (Advertising), Kathleen Brandt (CSX), Tom Peterson (LPS), Earnie Franklin (Incepture), Bob Brigham (Mayo), and Tony Park (Fidelity), and Matt Kane (Greenshades Software) to name just a few.
The Davis College’s primary goal is building thoughtful, engaged leaders prepared for tomorrow’s challenges in local businesses, government, and international commerce. The main purpose of a JU undergraduate business education is for students to gain knowledge and construct meaning from facts or figures, not just memorize the “right” answers (or regurgitates someone else’s meaning). The focus is on the why, rather than how something is done a certain way. Why? Because the methods and practices will change, but the ability to analyze and solve problems is something we practice continually….no we drill it into our graduates.
How is our leadership training different from any other system? “Normal” students are taught at a young age that education or a degree is a means to a better job.
How many times have you heard from friends or family, “do what you have got to do”. If you have to cut corners or cram for an exam, that is just is fine as long as you pass, right? At most colleges that type of thinking is reinforced and rationalized because the end of graduating or achieving an “A” grade justifies almost any short-cuts to success. The end for “normal” students is a higher paying job or valuable skill, not the acquisition of problem solving skills.
A degree is just a degree, right? I believe JU can be radically different. It is ironic that parents and even instructors at some colleges encourage their children to skip steps, cut corners, or be unethical if it gets you from A to Z faster. This kind of behavior is justified/rationalized in their minds–even though these graduates will need real skills and capabilities to become successful leaders.
The places offering an “easy route” to a college degree become a counterfeit business education. These institutions are spreading like wildfire around our country. Real problem solving skills and leadership skills come from hard work. The leadership tools students’ gain at JU come through practice. It isn’t always fun.
Do you join clubs or volunteer to lead? It costs a lot to attend any college or university, but leadership opportunities are all around you. Many students start college by dreaming big but are tripped up by natural barriers to gaining useful knowledge and experience. Many run out of money or loan capacity. Others are academically dismissed for poor performance because they lacked the skills or role models in their darkest hours. The “going got tough and they quit” principle applies to every college student enrolled today.
Why is it so difficult to make one’s education meaningful and worthwhile? It is hard to accumulate problem solving skills and resilience. Another answer is it is easy for students to lose hope in a better future. Or the student lacks sufficient aspirations.
Remember the story of young man who wanted the wisdom and knowledge of Socrates? Without a thirst for knowledge, the greatest technology cannot make up for a student or instructors’ sloppiness or laziness. As a teacher, I talk about not cutting corners, and being a life-time learner.
Students become discouraged easily. It is not unusual for them to be discouraged when they fail an exam or do poorly on an assignment. How do they know they are really learning something of future value? It is not as easy as it sounds. Instructors like me have a difficult time creating exams that truly sift the wheat (quality learning) from the chaff (route memorization). Creating open ended/essay oriented tests or grading presentations are time-consuming and more difficult to grade. I use these type of exams but rarely is there one right answer after graduation-just good, better, and best answers.
For our competitors who do not want to do the hard work to customize their feedback to the learner, it is easy to create an exam with a series of true/false questions or multiple choice from a test bank and run it through a “scan-tron” machine that will automatically grade the results.
On graduation day, you will be grateful JU held up a higher standard and expected you to combine learning with the best theories from one discipline to another and demonstrate an ability to understand and solve complex problems.
When these 21 entrepreneurs and business leaders engaged students and answered their questions, something magical happens. The students see the value of the knowledge and understand it for what it is–a gift. They gain the desire to withstand any necessary struggle to solve problems and meet new challenges. It is why I love what I do.