A couple of weeks ago, I did not remind my students that an assignment was due. Until then, that was never the kind of professor I wanted to be. But I have changed.

After years of working with busy, stressed out MBAs, I know that many are likely to forget deadlines. Out of fairness to those who do observe them, I strictly enforce those deadlines. But rather than alienate half the class with a zero on an assignment, I have become accustomed to sending out reminders – often.

The other day, I did not do that. I admit that I am dreading the drop in student satisfaction ratings that are likely to come my way.

In my defense, I am following the advice of some of my students’ future employers. I could ignore them, but the whole purpose of interviewing 100 business leaders around the world was to spur improvement back on campus. I believe I have to try to take the advice that I’ve been given.

What business leaders told me (sometimes it felt more like a trip to the woodshed) is that we business educators don’t give much thought to cramming our charges into a student mold. Upon graduation, though, employers  expect students to have broken out of that student mindset and immediately adopt a managerial one. Employers end up having to un-train graduates before they can do the work of managers. One CEO told me, “As it is right now, I feel like we have to ‘blunt them’ on stupid projects for the first four or five years before they can do higher-level things.”

Over and over again, I heard the explicit or implied refrain: “They have been students (or very young employees) their whole lives; can’t you do more to help turn them into professionals?” That frequent request moved me to completely redesign my courses – and the way I think about education.

I know there is a theory that good education is all about very clear standards for giving grades. One of the top-performing business professors in the world brags about a nearly 20-page syllabus for his courses and counsels other professors to make sure there are no surprises in the classroom. And he’s right – that is a proven path to top satisfaction ratings from students.

But in an era where all companies are grappling with a world high in uncertainty and ambiguity, it is really no surprise that employers continue to ask business educators to better prepare students to face the reality of a messy and unpredictable world after graduation.

I am sure that the business leaders I interviewed meant much more than just “don’t remind students about due dates.” But my recent deadline dilemma was a pregnant reminder of how difficult it will be for me to curb my natural knee-jerk inclinations after many years of teaching. It’s my desire to inspire successful business leaders for the future; however, implementing that goal has steered me – and hopefully my students – in a very new direction.

Photo courtesy of thetaxhaven.

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