Teach Students About Leadership

by Ashley K. Ritter

I teach a class at North Park University about career development for seniors. It amazes me that every time I teach the course, students come in expecting to focus on concrete goals. It’s as though they expect me to say, “Here’s a resume, here’s a cover letter. Now you are prepared for a job.” And who can blame them for this assumption?  In my experience of coaching college and college ready students for about 10 years, I have learned that students feel a strong sense of anxiety about the road to finding a job. They are afraid it will require them to abandon who they actually are and morph into some other professional self, unknown to themselves and unknown to others in their lives. Much of the course, instead, is focused on teaching students how to get in touch with their personal stories, identify what lasting character qualities and strengths it has built in their lives, and finally how to articulate that in the appropriate way to employers and others as a “professional brand.”

We know from the NACE 2016 Job Outlook Data that employers now look to leadership as one of the most sought after attributes in a new hire as well as the “ability to work on a team, communicating, and problem solving.  But what does effective leadership actually look like in the life of a new graduate? What builds the beginning of an effective leader? I would argue that it is more than leading a club or group on campus, though these experiences are essential and important practice. Teaching students to demonstrate and use emotional intelligence is an essential element to building the kind of leadership skills most needed in today’s workplace.

Daniel Goleman (2004) explains in his article, What Makes a Leader, that qualities of self – awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill are imperative. So imperative in fact, that in his study of over 188 companies, these qualities were twice as likely to be correlated to excellent performance as IQ or technical skill (Goleman, 2004, p.2). This is just one reason why the liberal arts, paired with a dose of experiential learning and workplace readiness, is still an important part of what makes candidates work ready.

We must continue to actually teach students what leadership is and how it relates to their own life and career development process. In Becoming a Strategic Leader, Hughes, Colarelli, Beatty, and Dinwoodie (2014) articulate why it is so important that leaders throughout a workplace have the ability to look both internally and externally for answers to organization problems. They write: “It involves an exploration and examination of one’s behavior, values, and identity as a leader and therefore includes potential answers that challenge a person’s sense of self. That is, these are not questions about what one does, but instead are questions about how and who one is (Hughes, et al, 2014, p.40).”

Bringing yourself to work is more important than ever! The authors go on to say, “They (leaders) still seem to fail to turn their perspective inward toward their own behaviors that support the leadership culture and practices they are trying to create in others (Hughes, et al., 2014, p. 41).  Teaching students how to engage in this type of reflection is not just paramount to gain employment but also to remain successful in their careers for years to come.

So that’s why, later today, I will go into class. I will look my students in the eye and ask them who they are, what their stories are, and what the bigger culture or collective picture is of whom they are a part. I will empower them with the courage to seek these answers. And by the end, my students will hopefully have eradicated the image of an “empty self” going to the workplace, but instead, a more whole, full, and confident self will emerge, ready to lead.

References:

Goleman, D. (2004) What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review, pp. 1-11.

Hughes, R., Beatty, K. Dinwoodie, D. (2014) Becoming a Strategic Leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey – Bass.

(2015, November 18) Job Outlook 2016: Attributes Employers Want to See on New College Graduates’ Resumes. Retrieved from http://www.naceweb.org/s11182015/employers-look-for-in-new-hires.aspx

Special thank you to Dr. Christopher Hubbard who recently shared with me some of the materials used in this post.

Ashley RitterAshley Ritter, human resources recruiter, Swedish Covenant Hospital
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