The War for Talent: Maybe You Can’t Find Skilled Leadership Because of an a Irrelevant Education Systems

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Near the turn of the twentieth century, Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced a number of quality and efficiency improvements to manufacturing in the United States. One hundred years later, we’ve come a long way from the Industrial Revolution and its focus on assembly lines and factory jobs. While more Americans have higher education degrees than ever, we’re still struggling to fill open positions within creative and technological departments and in middle and upper management. Where is the breakdown happening, and what, if anything as leaders of organizations, can we do about it?

Not only are our universities often failing to instill critical thinking skills in our college graduates, most schools are also failing to begin this type of training early on in a student’s educational career. If a student’s first exposure to critical thinking is college, it may be too late. To reap the most benefit from this crucial skill, critical thinking should be introduced in elementary school. Critical thinking, as defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking: ” is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.”

By definition, critical thinking isn’t about learning strategy and tactics, it’s about knowing how, when and why particular strategies are needed and how to develop and implement them. Teachers and academic programs should build on these rudimentary skills over the course of the student’s educational career; perhaps taking focus off tactical skills or, conversely, integrating critical thinking skills into tactical instruction. That’s the only way to ensure that our high school graduates are entering college with an adequate preparation to learn and become individual contributors and leaders in their own right.

Arguably, the teaching of critical thinking will help our schools meet the need to do a better job of preparing students to enter the workforce before college. With tuition costs continuing to rise, most students will need to work at least part time while completing their degrees. The acquisition of critical thinking skills will undoubtedly help our future leaders understand organization operational excellence before they graduate. Indeed, organizational excellence will probably be lost on them if they don’t understand and practice critical thinking.

While leaders of business don’t have any control over the educational system, they can tailor their recruiting strategies to target those individuals who have innate talent for or have developed critical thinking skills on their own (as well as those who have had effective training in the same). The company training program can also foster those skills in current employees, and develop the talent needed from within the ranks with a combination of corporate universities and other training systems.

If a company training program is ready to start making these improvements, look for a critical thinking subject matter expert (SME) consultant with experience in developing leadership skills in-house for business clients. Don’t count on or get frustrated with the American public education system for delivering or failing to deliver qualified candidates; instead, develop the existing talent to rise to the critical thinking occasion.


Additional Reading

7 Important Leadership Skills

Strategic Agility: The New Leadership Imperative


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