Rethinking business education: Leadership for the fast-paced, complex and connected economy

  • James Ludema

    James Ludema

  • Amber Johnson

    Amber Johnson

Posted3/15/2019 1:00 AM

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are all college drop outs. But for the rest of us, who aren't launching an empire from our garage or college dorm room, is business education needed?

Perhaps our opinion is biased (we work in the Daniel L. Goodwin College of Business at Benedictine University), but we think the answer is a resounding yes. If you're planning a successful career in business, you need the training that education provides.


However, traditional business education will only get you so far.

We've entered what some are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a period of constant innovation where what worked before cannot keep up with the pace of today. Leadership now requires facing complex systems with nimble adaptability and people-focused management. Talented leaders recognize that this new economy requires a new skill set.

Brett Hinds is a chief engineer with Ford Motor Company. Three years ago, Brett felt like his growth had plateaued: he had two degrees in engineering, but the challenges that came his way were more people or strategy issues than technical problems. "The path hasn't prepared you for that experience," he told us. (Read more about Hinds at this link

What Hinds and others have found is that being prepared for today's challenges requires developing two specific areas of leadership competency that aren't part of a traditional business curriculum.

First, to you must focus on leading yourself. Our colleague Bob Quinn, from the University of Michigan, says there are only two ways to grow as a leader.

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The first is through a crisis situation. Big mistakes and daunting challenges are terrific teachers, but most of us seek to avoid them. The second way to truly grow is through self-reflection. Our greatest leaps forward as leaders can happen when we listen to difficult feedback, when we identify our strengths and put them to work more effectively, and when we examine our values and priorities in light of our daily work.

Second, you also need to understand how to lead others and the organization.

The last three decades have brought dramatic shifts in what it means to lead others; while "command and control" management might have worked for midcentury bosses, today's team members expect "collaborate and connect." This is an entirely new skill set for leaders in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and one that requires listening as much as providing direction.

At Benedictine University, leading self and leading others is part of the curriculum in our Ph.D./D.B.A. program in values-driven leadership, for senior executives. Ford's Brett Hinds, mentioned above, is now one of the program's students. "This program fills in the materials you've not been exposed to before," he says.

Two ways to grow your business education

Earning a doctorate may not be right for everyone,

Continued on Page 28

so we have two very simple starting points for people who want to grow in their ability to lead themselves and lead others.


#1: To better lead yourself, ask these questions every day: "Where was I at my best today? Where was I most in my zone in terms of my values, my strengths, my best leadership capacity? How can I do more of that tomorrow?"

#2: To better lead others, we recommend the question popularized by hotel magnate Bill Marriott, who said asking, "What do you think?," was the starting point of good leadership. Inviting others to collaborate by sharing their thoughts gives you a broader range of perspectives to consider, while also helping to develop the talent of others.

We can't all be Bill Gates. But we can be better leaders by focusing on these overlooked areas of our own business education. The results, as our students tell us, can be transformational.

• James D. Ludema, Ph.D. is a professor of global leadership and the founder and director of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University's Daniel L. Goodwin College of Business. Amber Johnson is the chief communications officer with the Center, and a student in the center's executive doctoral program. Read more about the Center at

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