EDITOR’S NOTE: Marg Yaroslaski, a professor of communications and leadership at Dodge City Community College, is teaching in China for 3 months. She will be writing for the Daily Globe as part of her trip. Here is her 10th installment.
We ended our work in the textbook this week with a discussion about lifelong learning and leadership.
My Chinese students are very new to the idea of leadership as an area of study. Some of them learned they were enrolled in a leadership class on the first day of class. Over the semester, we have talked about forming teams, collaborating, conflict management and negotiation. Those concrete skills seem reasonable to them. Our last chapter suggests that leaders must develop an internal drive and a willingness to learn their entire lives. Students find this idea more difficult.
Some of my students are enrolled at SIAS because their parents insisted. I walked home the other day with a student who would like to study psychology but instead his mother has enrolled him in the business and leadership program so he can get a job in banking. He is a bright student who is doing well in school – but right now that is mostly because his parents call him daily and push him forward. He doesn’t’ have an internal drive yet. I worry that he will not reach his full potential if he can’t start motivating himself and making some of his own decisions. It is even worse with students who are less skilled. They will comply with orders but until then they simply sit and wait for their classmates or teacher to tell them what to do.
These students are alive in a time of rapid change. I told them that as a child I had the same phone for 10 years — they laughed. The problem with this rapid change is that it is easy to get overwhelmed. It is easy to want to stay in one spot and not update your phone, not learn new technology — just wish things were the way they used to be. The problem with that frame of mind is it does not stop the changes — it just stops the person from adapting to the changes.
I gave them the example of my father. He was born in 1928 on a farm in northern Montana. As a young boy, my father’s job was to ride the horses pulling the threshing machines at harvest time. He went on to farm his entire life. I asked my students if they thought he used horses to farm when he retired. NO, they answered. Of course, not — instead he lived through changes that resulted in tractors as big as houses with computers on board. He had to continue learning his entire life if he wanted to succeed.
Lifelong learning is exciting if you love learning, exhausting if you do not. My classes in China are similar to those in Dodge City. There are students who are energized and engaged about learning new ideas. They rapidly embrace the idea of leadership and lifelong learning. Others who just want to know if this is on the test struggle. They want to graduate college and be finished learning — they want the test to be over. NOW I am telling them that the world they are planning for will only be temporary and that they will need to keep changing, keep learning. At Dodge City Community College, I work to energize students like this by helping them connect the lessons to their long-term goal.
Here that is more difficult if their long goal makes them miserable. They see a future where they simply wait for someone to tell them what to do.
Leadership education provides Chinese and American students a chance to develop a frame of mind that will help them succeed in a rapidly changing world. I have no ideas what job our students will hold in 10 years because it does not exist yet. I do know that in 10 years, we still need leaders who can motivate the people around them to discuss problems and find solutions; we will need leaders who can energize people to do difficult work. Those students who embrace the ideals of leadership will embrace the possibilities this rapidly changing world offers.