How Can Today’s Students Make an Impact Tomorrow?

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Tuesday, July 26, 2022
By Graham Glass
Photo by iStock/FangXiaNuo
Business students want to make a difference in the world, but first they must develop the skills and value systems that will allow them to succeed.
  • Business schools must provide students with authentic, empathetic role models who teach them how to solve real-world problems.
  • Interdisciplinary courses will show students how to approach complex issues from many points of view.
  • Students will become better future leaders if schools welcome their opinions and encourage them to put their ideas into action.

I always knew that I wanted to make an impact in education. As a former teacher and trainer, I’ve had many experiences and challenges as an educator. Now, as the CEO of a learning platform company, my goal is to change the way people teach and learn so that education can be better and more impactful.

I know that many of today’s students are more aware than ever of societal issues, and they want to make a difference in the world after they graduate. However, these future business leaders won’t be able to have an impact if they don’t develop strong value systems and learn the skills they need to achieve their goals.

Business schools must take every opportunity to turn today’s students into the future leaders the world needs: people-oriented executives, strategic thinkers, and ethical decision makers who can manage a team, pitch a project, and adapt to change. I believe that, if you’re a dean or professor at a business school, you will need to take four critical steps to prepare future leaders to take on new challenges and produce a wider societal impact.

1. Encourage Professors to Be Role Models

In the eyes of your students, professors are leaders, and that gives professors a lot of power. The attitudes and behaviors of your teachers say more about your institution than the curriculum or even the official mission of your school. Therefore, it matters how teachers model leadership in their everyday actions. What ideas do the faculty put forward? What causes do they openly support? Do they use inclusive language in the classroom?

There are many ways professors can model a kind, empathetic, and authentic leadership style. For instance, they can employ flexible compassionate grading, which provides accommodations for students who might be struggling during uncertain times.

The attitudes and behaviors of your teachers say more about your institution than the curriculum or even the official mission of your school.

Through this approach, professors can extend deadlines to help students manage their workloads. Instead of grading students or conducting other strict assessments, professors can ask learners to contribute to forum discussions at the end of a course. Flexible compassionate grading is a wonderful system instructors can use to lower inequities in higher education by giving all students the time and tools they need to succeed.

2. Focus on Real-World Problems

Students come from all backgrounds and have diverse experiences. However, it’s not uncommon for most of them to be in a social bubble, unaware of all the problems that their communities face. For example, according to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020, 76 percent of millennials and 74 percent of Gen Z respondents believe that they developed an awareness of new issues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If students truly are going to have a societal impact once they become leaders, they must learn how to address real challenges; they can’t simply base their actions on assumptions about the world. They need to learn about current social issues, and they need to know how to work with potential clients.

To help them gain both types of knowledge, business schools should institute a project-based learning approach so students have to develop strategies for solving problems in their communities. For instance, students could create business plans or marketing campaigns for local businesses or conduct research about specific industries important to the region.

3. Offer Interdisciplinary Learning Opportunities

Many business students want to contribute to their communities, but they sometimes have difficulty choosing areas where they can make the most impact. Because there are so many pressing issues, they find it hard to narrow down their focus to a single problem, such as improving access to education or healthcare.

Students get a better idea of how they can use their skills in meaningful ways when their courses explore current issues in depth through methods such as interdisciplinary teaching. For example, when teachers from two different fields collaborate on course design or co-present as guest speakers, they can close the gap between complementary disciplines such as entrepreneurship and environmental studies.

Students get a better idea of how they can use their skills in meaningful ways when their courses explore current issues in depth through interdisciplinary teaching.

Similarly, students can make some of these connections for themselves if they’re encouraged to take classes in other fields—even if they take just one class per semester. If they don’t have the time to add in-person classes, they can take self-paced, for-credit, online courses on topics such as fighting climate change, providing humanitarian relief, and promoting sustainable development. Such classes can really change a student’s perspective on how business relates to pressing social issues.

4. Encourage Student Initiative

Students will become much better future leaders if your institution welcomes their input, because they will learn how to put their ideas into action. Typical student initiatives might consist of organizing a volunteering opportunity, hosting an event, starting a social impact project, launching an organization dedicated to a certain cause, or even suggesting a new course topic.

Does your school encourage student initiative? Do your individual professors invite students to share ideas? Is there a designated staff member for the entire school who listens to and considers all student suggestions? Can this liaison provide students with guidelines and offer them feedback when needed? Do you have a medium such as an anonymous online forum where students can submit ideas or outline their concerns? Do you provide a place where students can host activities? If you can answer yes to these questions, your students will know that their opinions and suggestions are welcome.

Preparing Leaders for Tomorrow’s Challenges

Leadership must be constantly nurtured through everyday behaviors and actions. All business schools should prepare the leaders of tomorrow to take on new challenges and drive societal change.

Moreover, by modeling empathic leadership, focusing on real-world examples, being open to interdisciplinarity, and encouraging student initiatives, business schools can prepare students for an uncertain future. Through these actions, schools can help students hone their skill sets, develop their value systems, and narrow down the list of issues they want to address when they set out to make the world a better place.

Graham Glass
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