March 2011 Archives

Applying Lessons for Business Leaders to Higher Ed

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Monthly I get a copy of Business 2 Business which I typically give a quick review and recycle. However, the March issue that recently found its way to my desk had something that caught my eye. Ira Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, Inc., has an article in the human resources section titled "Unsocial Media?" He speaks about the differences between the Gen Ys and the Millennials, and relates the "tsunami of change" . . . "on the cutting edge of a social revolution" to the recent events in Egypt and President Obama's election.

He shares four powerful lessons for business leaders that I think could also be applied to higher ed. Here they are:
1. "When people complain, listen." "The Millennial generation is a force to be reckoned with."
While everyone could use the advice to listen to the complaints people share, I took this immediately to heart in the way that I listen to faculty complaints, and how I need to listen very closely and ask the right questions to get to the underlying issue(s). We also need to listen when students complain. What's the underlying issue? What's going on? Is there a pattern?

2. "Don't confuse dissent with adversity." "If the Millennials don't respect you or support your cause, they now have the power to do something about it."
We've heard that students vote with their feet, as in not coming to class. Taking the title of the article to heart, students can also vote with their fingers: texting, tweeting, posting on the Web.

3. "Followership is the new norm in leadership; partnership is the new business strategy." In this lesson, Mr. Wolfe refers to the "youth-led but leaderless protest" that overthrew Egypt's government.
"Followership" reminds me of the ability to easily gather like-minded folks together very easily using social media. It's being used for crowd-sourcing, flash mobs, and I see it happen a lot in Facebook, where followers seem to abound. But the partnership part of the lesson is what I heard about a lot during the past Sloan-C Conference as a strategy for higher ed to survive in the current economy.

4. "The internet changed everything. Social media is not a fad, but a communication revolution." Mr. Wolfe quotes author Don Tapscott, "People no longer have to follow the leaders and do what they're told. Now they can organize themselves, publish themselves, inform themselves, and share with their friends - without waiting for an authority to instruct them. This unprecedented access to power has already rocked the music and newspaper industries, and it will roll over and through every other world this generation enters."
How are we using this, building on this, in our classes?

The article ends with "Staying power doesn't come from trying to pin everything down. Instead, it is the result of listening, flexibility, and responsiveness."
How true is that for higher ed?! Unwilling to change? You probably won't be around much longer. We really need to be rethinking everything we're doing, considering the tools available, the characteristics of our students, the barriers that prevent them from access, and the benefits/value added we provide. It's not enough that we change, but that we are also a vehicle FOR change.

Food for thought on a Friday.