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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five Things We Should Be Teaching Our Kids…And Ourselves…And Our Leaders

Please note: If you clicked on this posting to find a political rant on our education system, you’re at the wrong place, sorry. The list below is written in the context of the education system but it’s really about teaching (and learning) about key principles for strategic leadership.      

Like children all over North America, my kids made their way back to school today. No doubt they will be learning fundamental skills and information that will last them a lifetime. They will also learn many things that they will forget and never need again as soon as they finish their academic
 career and get a job in the real world.

(For an interesting perspective on "useless" education have a read through this blog post by James Altucher but be forewarned Mr. Altucher's blogs are not for the politically correct as you can see from the title...

Personally, I appreciate the value of what our kids learn in school…even the “useless” things like π and 15th century English literature. (Hint: To be is much better than not to be!). However, I also think our general approach to education could better serve our future. So…in honor of the kids going back to school today, here are five things I believe we should be teaching our children...and ourselves…and our leaders.

1.  Purpose, direction and meaning – Whether it’s changing the world or changing flat tires. Each of us has our own unique blend of interests and passions. Many of us spend our entire lives trying to figure it out. We should encourage and support our kids to find and pursue theirs as early as possible. Purpose, direction and meaning is the stuff that drives creativity, art, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit! 

2. Effort and action is what leads to success – Lottery winners notwithstanding, most of the people we consider successful achieved their success through initiative and nearly fanatical commitment and hard work. Think of Sydney Crosby spending countless hours shooting hockey pucks, Justin Bieber and countless other "stars" refining and practicing voice and dance, master artisans working on their craft, the Beatles playing cover songs all night in German strip clubs for years straight, and how Bill Gates immersed himself in computer programming. Some call them "nerds". I'd call them committed, focused, and deserving of their achievements. Action/initiative, discipline and hard work is the stuff that drives success, not just luck and not just daydreaming and/or planning! (Entrepreneurs and organizational leaders, please take special note of this one!)

For the one or two people in the world who may not yet have read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, he does a masterful job of discussing the role of effort (10,000 hours) in achieving success. Check out the Youtube link below and if I've set this up correctly, you can click on the link on the right if you're interested in buying the book.

Leaders aren't born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal. (Legendary Coach Vince Lombardi)

3. How to lead…and how to follow – Leadership and followership are two sides of the same relationship. Our popular notion of leadership is flawed and incomplete. Leadership is a shared activity. Even the Lone Ranger relied on his two partners Tonto and Silver.

Stay tuned for more on this notion of strategic leadership in a future blog post but for now I’ll simply assert that leadership and followership are skills that can, and should, be taught. Positive leader/follower relationships are the stuff that drives solutions!

4. Every opportunity also has a cost. – Everything we do in life involves choices. Every minute, every dollar, and every ounce of personal energy you spend on one thing is a minute, dollar or ounce of energy you can’t spend on something else. This is related to #1 and #2 above and it’s practical concept that can be directly applied to our daily decisions. I first learned the concept of “opportunity cost” in a university economics class. Why don’t we stress the concept earlier in life? Appreciating and applying the concept of opportunity cost in our decisions is the stuff that can help us make better choices in our personal lives,  in our work, and in our community life too! (Hint: It sure helps with strategic planning in organizations and businesses)

5. Tolerance, understanding and community– I don’t mean to get all Oprah about this but until we learn to appreciate, or at least respect each person’s unique perspective and value, our communities will continue to break down. Contrary to popular wisdom, there are actually many “I’s in team”. They’re called “individuals” and we need to encourage and teach our kids (and ourselves) to value their own true "nerdy" individuality…and to value and respect others in the same way. We shouldn’t be naïve about this. Unless every single person on earth suddenly became an altruistic saint, we will not be able to solve the world’s biggest problems. However, even the smallest increase in tolerance and understanding will help. Tolerance and understanding is the stuff that builds communities!

In my humble opinion, the concepts listed above are five essential elements of a valuable and productive education. I know from experience that schools do incorporate these in many ways, but I also believe there is room for improving how we teach (and learn) these “softer” skills. After all, learning  π  and 15th century English literature can only take you so far, right?

What would you add to this list? 

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