I have become increasingly concerned about how well graduating students are prepared for life in the world of work. I try very hard to prepare all who will listen for what to expect on the job. College coursework can prepare them only so well. Soon, reality will meet expectations for many December graduates.
Expectations is the operable word here. In college, it is a matter of what students expect to earn on their assignments, how hard they expect to work on them to get the grade they want, and what instructors expect of students’ work to earn a grade. Expecting to get by with minimal effort and score high is a trap in college. In the world of work, minimal effort won’t cut it either. It won’t help you keep your job, much less get promoted or earn you a salary increase or bonus.
One of my favorite historical figures is Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the known world before he was 33 years old. His resume is one of unquestionable accomplishment. He is called “the Great” for good reason. He earned it.
I have even higher regard for his teacher, Aristotle. Imagine having one of the greatest thinkers of all time as your personal teacher. Alexander got a heck of a good start on his way to Greatness with Aristotle as teacher, coach, and mentor. My students definitely do not have that advantage.
Whatever Aristotle did worked wonders. Alexander’s many accomplishments are testimony to that. Speaking of expectations, I am sure that Aristotle had the highest expectations for his student. As the son of a great king, I am equally sure Alexander’s own expectations were high as well. I’m sure Aristotle never said, “Okay, Alex, that’s close enough. The other boys did better, but you get an award too so your self esteem will be intact.”
Self esteem is confidence and satisfaction in oneself, usually earned by tackling a tough task and succeeding at it. A person rarely has sustainably high self esteem if life’s treasures are simply handed to him or her along with everyone regardless of achievement just to be “fair”.
When students enter the job market, what will they find? Will the work place be fair? Will employers ignore poor performance so as not to injure the employee’s self esteem? “I know you caused us to lose our biggest account with your ineptitude, but it’s okay. You are still a valued part of our team.” Or, ” you’ve missed three consecutive deadlines for important assignments, but not to worry — you are a winner. Here’s your bonus.” I do not think so.
The only thing that matters in business is results. Those who can achieve the necessary results will win; those who cannot will lose. It is Darwinian in scope, pure survival of the fittest. It’s not pretty, but it is real.
One of my most demanding but best supervisors once told me, “where much is given, much is expected.” He simply meant that the jobs we had at that organization were quite good. The organization paid us very well, gave us rich benefits, and provided us with responsible positions working for a major player in a fast-paced, high-growth industry. It was the most difficult work environment I had ever experienced. I regularly got extremely complex but important assignments. I was expected to complete them on time and correctly, often with little guidance, or I’d be gone. It was that simple: produce results or be replaced. I succeeded and found it exhilarating, but I paid my dues big time.
Expectations are formed and refined, now in the class room, then later on the job. The point is that a person cannot expect to be rewarded in the class room or the board room without putting in the time and effort it takes to get the right results.
If it were different, we might be talking about Alexander the Adequate.