DEVELOPING YOUNG PEOPLE’S QUALITIES OF CHARACTER FOR THE 21ST CENTURY WORKING WORLD

John Jay Bonstingl


What qualities of character will tomorrow’s business leaders be looking for in their employees? How can we — in education, business, and civic life — combine forces to help today’s students build those essential qualities of character in themselves?

How can we best work with our students and their families, and with our business partners and civic leaders, to create greater opportunities for success so all of our students become as competent as possible in the highly competitive, Quality-focused global economy? How can we help them to develop into good citizens, good parents, and good providers for themselves and their loved ones?

A new national project called Leaders for the Future is now beginning to discover the answers to these questions. This project, conducted by Bonstingl Leadership Development in schools across the USA and around the world, has discovered several trends that suggest imperatives for survival and success in the 21st century world of commerce.

• The marketplace will be increasingly focused on — perhaps even obsessed by — QUALITY. People and organizations who practice Quality consistently will have the best chances of surviving and thriving. Customers are becoming more and more demanding of high quality in the goods and services they purchase. Those business people who cannot, or will not, perform high quality work will find it increasingly difficult to survive financially. Efficiency, conscientiousness, attention to detail and creativity in solving problems will be vital for personal success. We are now well into The New Quality Century. Are our young people being prepared for their role in it?

• A truly global marketplace of information, ideas, goods and services will continue to emerge at a rapid pace. Jobs will be increasingly not local or even regional, but global. Today’s students will be competing for their livelihood with other young people (and people of all ages) from around the world, even from the most remote corners of our planet. The best and the brightest will find their way to the top of the worldwide marketplace of human talents.

• Work will take on new meanings in the global information exchange. Work will be less and less a noun (a place where one does tasks), and more and more a verb describing tasks and abilities that provide solutions to clients anywhere in the world, anytime, day or night. The instantaneous, high-quality, low-cost solution has already become the accepted norm, expected by clients in every field, everywhere on our planet. E-mail, fax, and overnight express delivery services have already laid the groundwork for this emerging pattern of expectations. The time when you could take a few days to carefully craft a well-considered response to a letter you received is long gone. In today’s instant-gratification environment, people expect to receive a reply not by return mail, but by instant return email or fax.

• Flexibility and adaptability will be the name of the game. Fast, high-quality solutions to pressing problems will keep clients coming back. Anything less may spell disaster. In this environment, every person must be an expert in learning how to learn. Having a solid grasp on one’s own metacognition — understanding the mental processes you typically use to build new understandings upon what you already know and care about — will be essential. Lifelong learning will no longer be an option, but a requirement for good citizenship as well as economic survival. Developing a healthy appetite for personal growth will become increasingly fundamental to staying alive and thriving in uncertain times.

• Being able to discern coworkers’ and customers’ metacognitive processes will be equally important, enabling you to have a deeper understanding of their thought processes, their true needs and wants, and their views of the world. This helps to build the essential quality of empathy, the ability to understand and support others in ways that create opportunities for them and for those they serve. Developing the willingness and ability to partner with others will optimize everyone’s potential.

In our 21st century world, these imperatives will require people in virtually every field of enterprise to adopt Quality principles and practices as a daily personal discipline — as a way of life. In my book Schools of Quality, I have suggested Five Personal Practices of Quality that are at the heart and soul of a high-quality, success- and joy-filled life of the heart, mind, and body. These essential practices are also at the core of survival in the Quality-focused 21st century global economy, where quality of one’s personal character may spell the difference between life and death.

Let’s take a closer look at these Five Personal Practices of Quality.

1. The Personal Practice of LEADERSHIP with gratitude, integrity, respect, and the courage of conviction. Living a high-quality life at home and at work will require our young people to learn how to take responsibility for their own lives. Learning to be appreciative and thankful for opportunities to serve others will open the door to financial security, as they recognize opportunities where others see only problems. Respect for oneself and others will create better environments inwhich everyone can survive and thrive.

Integrity — honesty and wholeness of being — will permit our young people to trust and to be trusted. Increasingly, people will come to believe that they can only afford to do business with those whom they can trust implicitly.

In today’s world, young people will discover that true courage is needed to lead their lives in harmony with their personal convictions about right and wrong. How can we help our young people to build upon their existing strengths, growing these qualities of Personal Leadership in themselves and in others who are in their spheres of influence?

2. The Personal Practice of TRUE PARTNERSHIP. In the increasingly interconnected economy, excessive cutthroat competition — particularly among friends and family, as well as within organizations and communities — will create difficulties for nearly everybody. A wealth of opportunity will open for those who see others as potential partners, rather than as threats to be eliminated.

Stephen Covey calls this an “abundance” mentality: creating more and more value by combining our virtually limitless resources in the service of everyone. How can we help our young people develop an appetite for partnership by engaging them in collaborative learning activities that develop their capacities to work well and productively with others?

One approach, described in my Expanding Learning Potential teacher-enhancement course, is to create “S-Teams” (Support Teams) in the classroom — small, collaborative student teams who learn to improve their personal and collective performance by working together closely as partners in one another’s progress, collecting and recording relevant data, and making changes in the way they do their work to optimize their opportunities for success.

3. The Personal Practice of SYSTEMS FOCUS. Dr. W. Edwards Deming, an early Quality pioneer who took the Quality philosophy to Japan at the end of World War II, is often credited with helping the Japanese economy to rise from the ashes to today’s position of world competitiveness.

Deming was fond of saying, “When things go wrong, don’t fix blame. Fix the system: That’s where your problems are!” How can we teach our young people to see the big picture, taking charge of finding solutions rather than finding fault in others? The success of their personal and professional partnerships will depend greatly on building this essential quality of character in themselves.

4. The Personal Practice of PROCESS ORIENTATION. A process-oriented person establishes worthy goals, then creates pathways to reach those goals in an expeditious way. Product-oriented people, on the other hand, are concerned exclusively with reaching the goal — not with the planning, training, and development that must accompany any worthwhile process toward the attainment of their objectives and beyond.

The success of 21st century Quality-focused enterprises will depend upon the process orientation of their leaders and employees. Young people who enter the global workforce as results-focused, process-oriented workers will have a great advantage in their careers.

How can we teach young people today that getting good test scores and grades is not enough, and that it is more important to develop learning competencies than it is to simply achieve the symbols of learning?

How can we encourage them to monitor their own learning processes — and those of their partners — so adjustments can be made along the way, ensuring ultimate success at the end of the unit, the semester, and the school year?

How can we help them see their lives as a journey that can and should be lived to the fullest every moment they are alive?

5. The Personal Practice of ONGOING LEARNING AND IMPROVEMENT. In Japan this personal practice is part of the culture, and is called kaizen. Looking for better, faster, and more precise ways of doing things is deeply ingrained in the Japanese spirit.

How can we help our young people to develop a personal dedication to continuous improvement of their work and their environments at home, at school, and in the community, in their own service and in the service of others?

Our Leaders for the Future project is helping students throughout the USA and around the world to apply my Five Personal Practices of Quality to the improvement of their own character and competencies for future success. Small teams of students learn effective learning strategies and problem-solving processes based on my Five Practices. They then apply these strategies to challenges in their own school, and they make formal presentations to the administration, suggesting possible solutions and describing the methodologies they used to arrive at their answers.

In our Leaders for the Future project, student teams also work with business partners and community organizations to help them meet pressing business and community challenges in a positive way. Business and civic leaders are often amazed at the brilliance of our students’ answers to questions that have puzzled and frustrated them for months!

These are the very same competencies that will make our young people attractive to potential employers and clients in the highly competitive global world of business and commerce. They are also the same competencies that will help our young people to become good parents and responsible participants in our democratic way of life.

Student participants gain invaluable insights into their own character and competencies, as they build upon their existing strengths. Their schools gain a more positive image in the eyes of their primary clients, the students. The community begins to see the school in a new light. Teachers begin to change the way they view students — no longer as empty vessels to be filled, but rather as partners in progress.

The global economy of The New Quality Century is fast taking shape. Will our young people be ready for it?

For more information about the Leaders for the Future project, click here.

For more information about the Expanding Learning Potential project, click here.

John Jay Bonstingl is president and founder of Bonstingl Leadership Development. He can be reached by email at Info@Bonstingl.com or by phone directly at (410) 884-7800. This article first appeared in the education journal Educational Perspectives, published by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.


 

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