Catch them young to start teaching about business

International competition has socked this country in the stomach. As we stagger to our feet in many industries, we can see more punches coming.

We'll be able to deliver a few left hooks of our own but not without strong leaders who can engage the strength of the workforce.

Many employees are surprised to find they don't have the critical leadership and communication muscle needed to advance to management positions. When they get to those positions, they're frustrated because their employees don't have a sense of urgency, commitment to quality or the willingness to participate in the fight for productivity and efficiency.

I think we need to start training camp at a younger age. In-house corporate training programs are taking swings at things like old, authoritarian management styles and poor customer service, but the opposition has more practice.

Business needs the help of educators if it is to stay in the ring with foreign competition. Schools can help build skills and attitudes that will help us rise to our feet swinging.

Here are some ideas that will make our good educational system even better:

·        Put more emphasis on practical skills training like assertiveness, goal setting, small group presentations and listening skills. Use the same programs that vendors sell to businesses.

·        When faced with a problem that involves the students, let them provide input on how to solve it. Form student task forces or "quality circles" to study the problem and recommend solutions. By the time these students become employees, participative problem-solving will be second nature.

·        Invite business people to your classrooms and take trips to workplaces. When students hear and see what the real world demands of them, they may take their subjects more seriously. Ask these business people to share work samples with students. Let them see statistical reports, letters and memos. Examine performance review forms. They'll soon see that cooperation, self-discipline, dependability and interpersonal skills are as important in the work world as they are in the classroom.

·        Emphasize project work. Employees are finding that little can be done in this high-tech world without the involvement of a committee or a project team.

·        Involve students in setting group goals and accountabilities. Evaluate the students on their contribution to the group effort as well as on the end product. Let them evaluate and discuss how the group approached the project so they recognize effective group processes.

·        Create assignments that force students to communicate with business people or visit the workplace to gather data.

·        Encourage students to write more letters and reports that persuade, deliver tactful criticism or ask for information. Emphasize concise journalism: short and to the point, not so many assignments that are "a minimum of three pages."

·        Involve students in whole group or sub-group discussions and hands-on activities. Students who are talked at are not prepared as employees to lead a meeting or to speak up when they hold a different point of view.

·        Teach students how to write goals for themselves that are specific and measurable. Employees are expected to be able to set realistic short-and long-term goals for themselves as well as action steps and deadlines.

·        Develop a positive discipline system that puts the responsibility for correction on the students themselves. Involve the students in designing the system and hold teachers accountable for administering it effectively.

·        Provide incentives and rewards for desirable behavior. A certificate at the end of the year for good attendance, for example, is too little too late. Find fun, creative ways to make good behavior pay. Businesses are finally realizing incentives, not punishment, are the key to motivation.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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