Employees who are encouraged to think critically and arrive at independent conclusions are assets to the workplace.
In higher education circles, maintaining rigor in the classroom is an ongoing pursuit. While the definition of rigor and its role in the classroom vary, it's clear that the expected outcomes are excellence, better-prepared graduates and an educated citizenry.
The conversation of rigor-in this case exemplified by high expectations and superior performance-must broaden beyond college and university campuses to communities and businesses. The very students who attend higher education institutions enter the workforce, volunteer in the community and hopefully become leaders who will tackle world issues. Yet, if high expectations are not realized in the classroom, students are less likely to reach their full potential. This diminishes future prospects for the organizations that later will employ them and the communities that will rely on their contributions as active, informed citizens.
Institutions of higher learning embrace rigor on two important levels: first, as a responsibility to the students they educate and next, as a business that relies on faculty and staff to be successful. Graduating students who are prepared to excel is good for those students and for the workforce. Employing faculty and staff that pursue excellence is good for the institution.
In today's economic climate, more is demanded of employees than the mastery of applicable technical skills. While technical competence is an important foundation for getting the job done, employees who offer more-whether on the plant floor or in the boardroom-are valuable. Employers and society will be served well by those who probe beneath the surface to find sustainable solutions to modern-day problems, who carefully consider historical and cultural context and ethical consequences, and who bring curiosity and a multidisciplinary approach.
Consider a business that faces increased pressures on innovation, efficiency and product performance. Technical skills alone will not move this company forward. Organizations that employ people who are critical thinkers, are empathetic, have the utmost integrity and stand tall as leaders have a distinct advantage.
Employees who are encouraged to think critically and arrive at independent conclusions are assets to the workplace. Critical thinking drives better decision-making. It challenges the status quo and results in new and innovative ideas.
Critical thinkers are common in higher education. Faculty are known for questioning assumptions, perhaps because it's a safe environment. In a business setting, it's important to create a culture in which asking questions and thinking differently is rewarded. Recent graduates entering the workforce do so wondering, "How can I make a difference?"
Some may argue that empathy has no place in business. However, in an environment that is heavily dependent on strong customer relations and service, employees who understand and convey empathy are key reputation builders. Empathy enables us to truly appreciate people with diverse perspectives and experiences. It gives us respect for human dignity and the capacity to be globally aware. But truly understanding and practicing empathy takes hard work and rigorous attention.
Interestingly, there is a perception that today's young adults are less empathetic than previous generations. This could have serious repercussions for businesses and society. Fortunately, across campuses students engage in activities and experiences that challenge them to grow personally in this area. Empathy can be taught, but it must be practiced. Students are ahead of the curve in understanding this. They know that a greater empathy quotient will make them better educators, public servants, health-care professionals, legal advocates and more. As students continue to develop in this important area, businesses that employ them will be strengthened and their customers will be better served.
Honesty and integrity are critical to the culture and ultimate success of an organization. Consider businesses-or even executives-that have failed. For many, these high standards were neither valued nor encouraged. When questionable behavior is modeled at the highest levels of the organization, it is sure to be repeated throughout. Consistently acting with integrity and a steadfast moral and ethical code requires discipline. Establishing these unwavering expectations in the classroom and workplace is good for business.
Critical thinking, empathy and integrity are a powerful formula-as relevant to higher education as it is to enterprise. Add to this the utmost competence in technical skills and you'll find a student, employee and community member poised to make valuable contributions. You'll find leaders who have been developed to know the right thing to do and who have the courage to do it-even when no one is looking. After all, leaders rarely are born. They are shaped by people and circumstances that require more than the status quo-that challenge them to blaze their own path, rather than settle for the one of least resistance.
Denvy A. Bowman, Ph.D., is the president of Capital University. He can be reached at (614) 236-6908 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted from the March 2013 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.