Universities and colleges face an unusual problem when it comes to preparing today’s business students to be the leaders of the future.
The students sitting in their classrooms and learning about the business world of 2019 could face a whole new suite of challenges by the time they reach the upper echelons of management decades down the road, said Shawn Berman, acting dean of the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management.
“Obviously, they’re not going to be CEOs for 30 to 40 years and, by then, the challenges will have changed,” he said.
But by giving students a strong foundation in leadership and analytical thinking, universities are setting them on a path to success, Berman said.
“It’s about critical thinking,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure students have the skills to problem solve. … That’s what a university education is all about.”
Trevor M. Spoelma, assistant professor of organizational studies at the Anderson School, focuses his teaching and research on people skills related to management — another ability that will stand the test of time. For example, Spoelma teaches students how to build a climate of psychological safety in the workplace so that employees feel good about speaking up to share feedback and creative ideas.
“A good way to teach these skills in the classroom is through things like role playing exercises and discussions in class about experiences people have had where they aren’t treated fairly, or they aren’t respected or they aren’t motivated at work,” he said.
There are other timeless qualities that aspiring business leaders should work to develop, according to local business experts.
“The CEO smoothie needs to have lots of different things,” said Kathie W. Winograd, president of Central New Mexico Community College. On her list: being inquisitive, reading a lot, being a good listener and tough decision-maker and having the integrity to admit mistakes.
Of course, there are also more traditional skills and knowledge that are important such as marketing in the modern world, cybersecurity and human resources management.
And rising business leaders have plenty of places to turn for continuing education as they advance.
“I don’t think college and university is the only learning environment,” Winograd said, adding that CNM emphasizes work experience. “There’s a lot you can teach and then there’s a lot you really need to experience before you understand.”
Spoelma agreed that continuing education and professional development after getting a degree are important.
“There’s obviously a great deal of learning people can do independently,” he said.
Nancee Marquez Whittington, president of Quality New Mexico, which drives performance excellence through training and an annual awards program, said keeping up with emerging technology and staying on the leading edge of change are important.
Lynda.com, which is free to Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Public Library cardholders, includes hundreds of online training courses ranging from “Navigating Politics as a Senior Leader” to “How I Got Here” stories from leading influencers to “Cost Reduction: Cut Costs and Maximize Profits.”
Local organizations such as the Young Professionals of Albuquerque, Leadership New Mexico, Quality New Mexico, FatPipe, the New Mexico Small Business Development Center and WESST provide classes, seminars and other programs for aspiring and established business leaders.
WESST, for example, takes a “deep-dive” approach to teach key business concepts such as strategic planning, web marketing and financial planning and analysis at its six locations around the state.
The Young Professionals’ Lunch with Leaders program brings together under-40 businesspeople and established company heads. Those connections and the ones formed at Rotary or Kiwanis clubs can be fertile resources, said Patty Komko, president of Leadership New Mexico, which brings together people from diverse industries.
“I think there’s a lot to be shared in that cross-pollination,” Komko said.
Spoelma said there’s reason to believe that successful CEOs might be the ones who work really hard at learning and practicing the skills they need to be a more effective leader.
“We tend to like to think good leaders are born,” he said. “That’s really not the case.”