Leadership Intervention

Sep 19, 2014 1 Min Read

Photo credit (above): Vancouver Film School | Flickr

Do top performing undergraduates need it?

20092014-p11I just came back from multiple camps organised by top companies, in which I worked, mentored and learnt together with hundreds of scholars and top performing undergraduates.

In the academic world, their pedigree is second to none – coming from Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Oxford, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Warwick, as well as other very respectable universities.

They are intelligent, willing to work hard, have the right attitude, and are eager to learn. With this list of criteria seemingly checked off, is there a need for host organisations to intervene?

Based on my observations – it’s a YES, and here are five reasons why:

1 They live within their comfort zones

While most top performing graduates or scholars hold leadership positions in clubs and societies, many of them might not have the right depth of experience that will align with the needs of organisations.

The reason is most of the activities organised are events such as BBQs, prom nights, small conferences and competitions, social gatherings, etc.

While there’s nothing wrong with organising such events, they develop skill sets that bring little to no value to organisations.

2 They are not exposed to the business world

Universities are first and foremost academic institutions. While universities try their best to bring in career fairs and consult with industry partners for their content, at the end of the day, students have to study, complete assignments and pass their exams.

To be fair, that is what a university is expected to do. However, in the business world, things are different.

There is neither grading of assignments nor taking of exams. Wrong decisions can lead to a loss of resources, reputation and customers for organisations.

3 They are unaware of professional expectations

Undergraduates form their social circles and network among their peers. The only adults that they usually interact with are their parents and lecturers. As such, their delivery of expectations are pegged at the level of their peers.

Top undergraduates struggle with matching up with expectations of professional working adults because it’s much higher than what they are accustomed to.

There are demanding stakeholders to manage, often with very tight deadlines and resource constraints.

4 They communicate in their own language

Even with top performing undergraduates, one of the biggest gaps is communication. Organisations find that new hires are unable to communicate with the type of lingo and tact required.

The problem is not grammar but rather the cultural context of the conversations that have been taking place in their daily lives. More often than not, students talk rather than communicate.

Usually in my speaking sessions with undergraduates, I ask this simple question: “When was the last time you had to motivate, convince, negotiate or coach someone?”

When I ask for a show of hands, I only get 1%–2% of the crowd that had done in it in the past week. 98% had not even done it in the past year.

5 They are great with black and white but not with grey areas

In the area of cognitive thinking and decision-making, many students do well – though unfortunately only when the answer is black or white, or when there is a clear answer.

However, the hardest decisions are found in the grey areas. Perhaps this is because the system that they live in as a student values a single correct answer, but this does not apply in the working world.

Students struggle with breaking down complex issues into manageable chunks, analysing similar options, thinking out of the box and defending their decisions when questioned about it.

The 5 key focus areas

If we all agree that these are indeed urgent and alarming gaps, then the next question would be – how then do we intervene?

In my opinion, scholars and top performing undergraduates need to undergo leadership development and not soft skills training.

Unfortunately, soft skills training in its present form is largely made up of theory and a bit of application through short games or activities.

While short games or activities might help to bring the concepts across, it does not give the participants the business world experience that is required for their development.

The answer lies within these five key focus areas. Any leadership development for scholars or top performing undergraduates must have these to ensure holistic development.

  1. They need to deep dive into business world situations and not case studies.
  2. They need to manage stakeholder expectations in a live setting within a business world context.
  3. They need an environment which forces them to make decisions that don’t have “right” or “wrong” answers, and they need to be able to defend those decisions.
  4. They need to be put under sustained and constant pressure of time and resources to deliver results – both as a high performing individual as well as a team player.
  5. They must be in the zone and dream, eat, think, act, behave and live out the life of a business leader, not a graduate.

The focus areas above summarise how leadership development needs to happen if we want to create world-class young leaders.

As part of a company whose mission is to develop capable leaders, we have a passion to build up the younger generation through such a method.

Here at Leaderonomics Campus, we have developed our interventions to ensure the five focus areas are at the core of how we develop young leaders.

Andrew Lau is head of Leaderonomics Campus. If you’re interested in collaborating with them for scholars or top performing undergraduates, you can contact him at editor@leaderonomics.com

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