On Friday, December 3, I served on a panel with five others for an afternoon session for Leadership Irving. The room was filled with a rich array of folks, from a wide range of industries. Mike Overby, Principal & Owner of Express Employment Professionals of Irving, led the session. (He is committed to leadership development, and does a great job at providing wonderful events for people in Irving).
Every panel member had much to offer. It was a terrific discussion! In the midst of the panel discussion, Thomas Trotter, IBM, Senior Executive Emeritus, said one short sentence that hit with great impact. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that the two most important skills, the ones that are most critical, the ones that without these, you cannot do your job effectively (or even keep your job) are:
Communication Skills and Teamwork.
Communication skills and teamwork. These really are that critical!
It’s tough for college graduates out there, thus it is tough for current college students. What should today’s student major in? In today’s NY Times, one of the top e-mailed articles wrestles with this question: CAREER U. — Making College ‘Relevant’ by Kate Zerniuke.
After discussing the decline of/loss of philosophy majors, and the ascendancy of business majors, here is a key excerpt:
There’s evidence, though, that employers also don’t want students specializing too soon. The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently asked employers who hire at least 25 percent of their workforce from two- or four-year colleges what they want institutions to teach. The answers did not suggest a narrow focus. Instead, 89 percent said they wanted more emphasis on “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” 81 percent asked for better “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” and 70 percent were looking for “the ability to innovate and be creative.”
“It’s not about what you should major in, but that no matter what you major in, you need good writing skills and good speaking skills,” says Debra Humphreys, a vice president at the association.
Here’s my opinion. I understand that people need jobs, and that the jobs are tougher to get with a humanities/philosophy/English degree. But I have heard my share of mediocre presentations, read my share of mediocre business writings, and seen my share of ethical lapses. The humanities matter. And I think that business will rediscover a need for such thinking/training. And for those who did not take enough of such subjects, they have some remedial work to do. And, yes, I know that it is tough to do this with a “catch-up” approach. (I wrote about this earlier, based on an article from Harper’s: Dehumanized — A Cause for Alarm in Education, and in the World of Business Books).
You can’t read a book or two to make up for lost years of foundational learning. But, let’s use the paragraph above as providing to set an agenda for some reading in 2010. Here are some suggestions:
If you need to work on: Then you might want to read: “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” Words that Work by Frank Luntz; and Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” Big Think Strategy: How to Leverage Bold Ideas and Leave Small Thinking Behind by Bernd H. Schmitt; and The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin. “the ability to innovate and be creative.” The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
by Twyla Tharp and The Art of Innovation (Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm) by Tom Kelley
This is a subject worth following.