Something's missing from the training colleges give to future leaders

Employers have long complained about a "skills gap," noting that the most promising future leaders have the right combination of soft, professional skills and technical knowledge, according EAB's Academic Affairs Forum.

While most academic institutions agree that leadership education must feature core elements like effective communication and critical thinking, few colleges are explicit about the importance of building technical and domain expertise, Art Markman argues for the Harvard Business Review.

Recent studies suggest that the most successful leaders have both soft skills and domain-specific expertise, writes Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin.

To effectively use soft skills, leaders need to have an in-depth understanding of their terrain, he argues. For example, a college president guiding students through a crisis communicates differently than a doctor speaking to a patient.

A leader without industry expertise may lean on expert staff, but they may not be able to critically evaluate the information and so are more likely to make poorly informed decisions, Markman warns.

Colleges and universities who are preparing the next generation of leaders must emphasize the importance of building domain expertise in addition to soft skills, Markman argues. Students who develop soft and collaborative skills as well as highly-demanded technical expertise face the most promising opportunities for short and long-term employment, according to Carla Hickman, a managing director at EAB.

Similarly, organizations training future leaders should test talent with scenarios that capture the unique ambiguities within the particular industry, he adds. To secure a pipeline of future talent, organizations must encourage prospective leaders to stay within the institution and develop the subject-specific knowledge they need to lead effectively, Markman recommends (Markman, Harvard Business Review, 11/17).

Also See: Two ways to integrate professional development into the liberal arts


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