Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Do we have leaders?


Herrmann, Komm, and Smit ask what impact leadership has on company growth. They combined two databases and looked at the overlap – 5,560 executives – to determine if there was a correlation between their performance appraisals and revenue growth. They “…found that [exceptional] leadership quality is critical for growth.” Moreover, they failed to find “…measurable correlation between revenue growth and teams with solid but unexceptional leadership.” They bemoan the dearth of great leaders, citing that only 11% of the leaders sampled received performance review scores above 5 out of 7. So the private sector needs leaders.

Where do the leaders go? Public sector or non-profit sector? The added stress, character judgment, and poor reputation push away many potential public leaders. Innovative start-ups? Perhaps some do that. John Gardner has other ideas that I find particularly compelling and true of our society[1]:
  • ·         “[Societal] complexity… discourages initiative, innovation, and boldness.”
  • ·         “The prestige of professional training drains off potential leaders into marvelously profitable nonleadership roles… down the road to specialization.”
  • ·         “[Our educational system] places enormous emphasis on individual performance, and virtually none on the young person’s capacity to work with the group. ... [It also] persuades the young person that what society needs are experts and professionals, not leaders.”


All sectors and subgroups of society need people who can creatively tackle problems and induce others to follow. What can we do to create such entrepreneurial leaders (other than trying to poach them from other places with ever-increasing salaries)? Many business schools have entrepreneurship and leadership programs. Such learning must start younger. Public school curricula across the country should adopt entrepreneurship and leadership training in primary school.

The need clearly exists and these skills can be taught but they have not been attempted in this country in a comprehensive fashion. Scant research exists on the effect of leadership training at the primary school level.[2] Despite that, a couple programs in this country have started fostering leadership skills.[3] (Why do I feel the need to cite what someone else has done before we take the initiative to make positive improvements? Could it be because I have been taught that “leaders” will not take risks without evidence of success elsewhere?) Pittsburgh Public Schools still has an opportunity to be a leading district in incorporating leadership training into its curricula. However, there is evidence of the positive impact of entrepreneurship training. Based on data from other countries, one year of entrepreneurial training in primary school has the equivalent impact of six years of education on the innovativeness of an entrepreneur.[4] While leadership and entrepreneurship require different qualities, the skills required certainly overlap and support each other. An entrepreneur must persuade potential investors to believe in the product and a leader must be willing to take risks. They must both make quick decisions and personally reap the rewards and losses. It makes sense to teach them together.

How long will it take before our school systems adopt the teaching of these vital skills that are needed everywhere? What organization will emerge as leading this recognition and change? How can organizations support the growth of leaders and entrepreneurs within their ranks? How will that affect their culture and growth? I propose that the Pittsburgh Public Schools incorporate leadership training and entrepreneurship development into it's mandatory curriculum beginning next year. Support for this will come from all sectors of society, contribute to increasing scores on those stale standardized tests that nobody likes, and could eventually help bring people back to the city.




[1] Gardner, John. On Leadership. The Free Press, New York. 1990.
[2] Hess, Lindsay. Student Leadership Education in Elementary Classrooms. Dominican University of California, School of Education and Counseling Psychology. San Rafael, CA. 2010. Accessible at http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED511052.pdf
[4] Schøtt, Thomas, Hovne, Adam and Hovne, Ben. Entrepreneurs’ Innovation Promoted by Their Education and Training and by National Policy and Culture: A Global Study. In Entrepreneurial Strategies and Policies for Economic Growth, by Moreno Muffatto and Paolo Giacon, 2012.

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