4 Things I Wish I’d Learned as an Undergraduate
I recently had the honor to speak with the CS and IT majors of the USMA (West Point) Class of 2010. Recognizing that these young men carry an incredible burden for all of us, I struggled for what I could tell them. These young men and women, after all, are going to be the tools of our international efforts against terrorism for quite some time to come and in 5 years will likely see 2 combat deployments. The price they pay for their “free” education is much higher than the one my partner and I paid and larger still than the 99.9+% of the rest of their generation (those that never serve their nation in uniform).
I settled on trying to pass along four things that I wish I had learned in school – before the Army and before becoming a civilian. These aren’t four things that I wasn’t taught mind you. I may have been taught some of them, and at any rate the burden for learning should really be placed upon the student – especially in college. These are four things that I wish I had recognized, retained or learned on my own; four things that would have made my Army and civilian life much easier. Here they are as I discussed them with elements of the USMA Class of 2010:
1) Moral and Ethical Challenges Occur Frequently – More So Than You Might Think
It doesn’t matter if you are in the Army and parts for your dead-lined vehicle magically appear overnight or you are reviewing the use of company assets and find that people are using company assets for personal use – potentially in violation of company policy. Sometimes even people who are on balance “good” make ethical mistakes. And make no mistake, there are morally bankrupt people committing unethical acts at an incredibly high rate all around us.
Most of us, quite honestly, are ill prepared to address ethical issues upon graduation. Many schools barely touch the subject. Even the service academies, with their strict honor code, too often paint topics as black and white rather than the spectrum of blacks, whites and grays that occur in the real world. As we’ve written in the past, the journey to moral bankruptcy isn’t one giant leap, but a series of small steps. Draw lines in the sand early in your career so that you know you are heading in the wrong direction as you progress. Build a support group of people who will tell you the truth and help guide you should you start to go astray.
2) Smart People and Terrible Teamwork Equals Crap Technology
Intelligence is only one of many independent variables (inputs) resulting in the dependent variable (output) of overall team performance. Behaviors of individuals within the team are another equally important independent variable. Leadership and culture are important moderators of this equation. It is possible to have brilliant jerks, incapable of getting along with anyone, who completely destroy the output of the team.
We should reward people on their accomplishments and their ability to work as a team. Intelligence is great, but we simply don’t pay people for being smart. Who cares if you are smart if you can’t either get something done or alternatively destroy team morale and throughput? Consider using this 2×2 matrix presented within The Art of Scalability to evaluate the individuals in your team for both behaviors and accomplishments.
3) Leadership is about EQ – Not IQ
Our frequent readers will also remember this from our postings abroad. As Malcolm Gladwell has indicated within his book Outliers, all of the evidence points to the notion that the most successful leaders have some minimum IQ. But IQ alone is not sufficient to be a successful leader. The greatest leaders have high emotional quotients, often considered a combination of social intelligence and emotional intelligence.
Two of the world’s foremost experts on the topic of leadership and social and emotional intelligence, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee have written two wonderful books on this topic: Primal Leadership and Resonant Leadership. In keeping with our theme of 2×2 matrices, here is Richard and Annie’s representation of commitment and emotional quotient. The Y axis indicates how mindful the leader is of himself/herself (emotional intelligence) and how mindful they are of others (social intelligence). The X axis indicates their overall emotional tone towards others. Successful (aka Resonant) leaders have on balance a positive emotional tone and are in touch with themselves and their teams.
4) It’s All About Performance
See my brief discussion of the model for success. Superior performance, I argue, is measured as improving long term stakeholder wealth. This might be emotional wealth in the case of some non-profits or financial wealth in the for profit world. This means getting things done on time, on budget, in an ethically appropriate manner, with the right quality and meeting the expectations of stakeholders. Time and experience are just moderators to this equation; they only help performance. Independent variables are intelligence, drive, commitment, behaviors, etc. Look to build the right teams with the right behavior at the right time. Don’t get tied up in how much “experience” people have. I’d rather have a dedicated person with 5 years of experience than a lazy person with 20.