As we approach another new year with COVID-19 in tow, the pandemic still weighs on businesses and organizations of all sizes. The last three years have been a reminder of the need for agility and resilience in business leadership along with a willingness to engage on a global scale. These attributes may be needed even more as we navigate challenges ranging from sluggish growth and inflationary pressures to geopolitical conflicts and the climate crisis.
Yet, how do we foster effective business leaders? There is no one simple answer but what’s clear is that we need to help school-age children and their families make wise choices. I would like to take this opportunity to offer some considerations and insights based on my experience in education and university counseling, as I currently support students at my school in Seoul with every step of the college entrance process.
Firstly, there are numerous paths to success and students should not be forced into choices that are not a good fit for them. This is relevant years in advance of college entrance, as school programs should be as holistic as possible. Having recently witnessed the latest annual round of Korea’s College Scholastic Ability Test, or suneung, I would say that while its marathon exam approach might work for some students, I am encouraged by the fact that this country is exploring alternatives. For example, I am heartened to see that a select group of Korean public schools have started offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma this year.
The IB Diploma is a globally renowned program that has been offered for some time by international schools in Korea. It is based on widely varied activities both in and out of the classroom, including self-led tasks like long-form essay writing that teach time management, research, regulation, and discipline. Not only is the IB program academically rigorous, but it also includes a robust service element such as offering support to local communities. This places IB Diploma students in a strong position to grow as global citizens who are invested to make the world around them a better place – which, in turn, is a vital attribute for leadership in business and beyond. As such, the acceptance rate of IB students into Ivy Leagues universities is up to 18% higher than the total population acceptance rate, according to a 2018 study by the International Insight Research Group. As a former admissions officer for Boston College and Babson College in the US myself, I can personally attest to the value of the IB Diploma because I have witnessed how well it prepares the students once they get into university and I understand the appeal an IB Diploma holds for admissions officers.
That said, finding a best-fit college means focusing less intensely on school rankings and considering other important factors not normally reflected on such lists. These include class size, access to professors, location, research opportunities, campus culture, support for international students, alumni, graduate school, and careers. The reason we offer personalized learning journeys for our students is because we understand that every student will have different strengths, priorities, and interests. A common question I raise is whether they want to be a big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond, as some may thrive in a large school and others may prefer a small liberal arts college.
One thing I encourage all my students to do is to try as many things as possible because that is the best way to discover what you’re most passionate about and good at. In addition, extra-curricular activities may provide a skillset applicable for a long time. Fortunately, programs like the IB encourage just such broad ranging exposure. This might include pursuits outside traditional academic subjects. Someone with a background in the performing arts, for example, might later on be equipped with a high level of confident communication and body language in a business setting. Meanwhile, sports tend to foster leadership and teamwork.
I would add that with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors becoming vital to businesses and organizations of all sizes, holistic education will prepare young people to pave the way for how they want to make an impact in this world. Sustainability is a critically important value to teach at school, for instance, and makes business leaders of the future much more likely to introduce initiatives that fundamentally change the way we do business (think supply chain). Caring about our planet is caring about people. The IB Diploma includes a service component that all participate in – whether it’s a student at my school who recently organized a blood drive after recognizing a shortage had arisen in the local community during the pandemic, or another student who organized an art exhibit last year featuring drawings by children with disabilities to promote inclusion and acceptance of these children in Korean society. I speak from experience when I say that the skills and attributes which admissions officers look for in applicants are resilience, risk-taking, kindness, collaboration, initiative,and flexibility – all of which students were “forced” to develop during the pandemic.
To this point, a young person who may inevitably encounter failure along the way in any of these endeavors could recognize the opportunity therein. After all, failure builds the resilience to meet the world’s most difficult challenges. Learning from failure is the surest way to succeed later.