I think that my co-workers would attest to the fact that I am a tireless champion for ensuring that developmental efforts pay off for the business. I am personally dismayed by our “spray and pray” approach to corporate education, which seems to have neither a basis in real business need, nor a clear business benefit. At the same time, I genuinely believe that ours is a high calling, no matter how corny that may sound. We have the privilege of assisting our clients to elevate the level of their thinking, and nothing could be more important. Centuries ago, Plato pointed out that we should not expect to be praised for pursuing this mission. At times, we do it at our own peril. In his sardonic manner, he pointed out that “…the trouble with uninformed people is that they don’t know they’re uninformed.”
You may feel that you are sometimes the target of the outrageous slings and arrows of corporate life, but I want to encourage you, as my colleague encouraged me, to examine your life and to embrace the remarkable opportunity you have to make a difference in your sphere of influence through the cultivation of the minds and hearts of your clients. We are surrounded by the decay of ideas and morals in business. We have experienced a meltdown in the character of corporate leadership. Educators have always had an opportunity and a responsibility in such times to redirect people’s thinking to a strong ethical and practical course while respecting differing views regarding the basis of moral belief.
As a CLO, now is your time to bring to the table that which is most needed in a climate of uncertainty and distress. Even in times of severe economic challenge, almost all parents want the best for their children and will make a significant sacrifice to see that their children get the best education possible. Intuitively and experientially, we all know that education allows us to think and act at a level required to move beyond the level of the dilemmas we currently face. As the senior knowledge officer of your company I am sure that you have the same passion when it comes to the development of the people in your company.
In many ways the purpose of education is to move people from comfort to discomfort. We have a responsibility to move people from that which is familiar to that which they do not know and do not understand. This is never popular, particularly when it disrupts that which seems to be working very well for us. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved our society from the comfort of a system that was working very well by shining the bright light of truth on our ignorance and prejudice, it was not comfortable. It forced us to learn about ourselves and a system we had put in place that was unfair and immoral. That is a great example of education at its finest and at its most uncomfortable.
There are many signs that we are at the beginning of a new economic cycle. A better-educated workforce with increased capability for performance and renewed commitment to an ethical approach is yours to cultivate and grow. You, like generations of educators before you, have the opportunity and the responsibility to give that which is most needed, even if it is not always recognized or appreciated. As Highet stated, “to accomplish it even in part will be our best reward.”
Fred Harburg is senior vice president of leadership & management development at Fidelity Investments Company. Fred has held numerous international leadership roles and worked with several Fortune 100 companies, including IBM, General Motors, Disney, AT&T and, most recently, Motorola. Fred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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