I would like to begin by advocating for more military leaders in MBA programs. I know it’s what we do, but here is why it makes sense. With international students soon to be on the decline, military applicants are the MBA world’s best connection to global cultures and economies. Because they work for the largest diversity employer in the world, military candidates will also be a key segment of diversity missing for business schools during the next four years.
Equally importantly, military MBA candidates bring a host of desirable soft skills such as proven leadership and concise, no-nonsense communications into an academic setting. Finally, I believe one of the most critical voids they fill is having mental toughness. This shows up in attributes such as grit and determination. Military leaders have come of age through various types of challenges and situations of adversity. Relative to other civilian MBA candidates, (i.e., some of which come straight out of undergrad degrees), the advantages military leaders possess are plain to see, hard to match and necessary to obtain a quality business education in the 21st century.
During the remainder of this post, I would like to share a recent personal experience I have had in Higher Education. Telling this story reinforces the need for graduate and MBA schools to use more resources and focus on investing in diversity of thought and recruitment of more applicants who have grown through challenges and adversity before they are enrolled.
In November I spoke with my son, who is a Mechanical Engineering student at Cal Poly, after the 2016 election and he was upset that Donald Trump had just taken over the White House.
It was the first time he voted and similar to other college students his age he had supported Bernie Sander’s bid for President during the primaries. After President Trump won, he spoke with me about how the outcome might negatively impact his future.
Although a lot of millennials did the same thing, this sort of overreaction was unusual for me. I am a first generation college graduate and the son of self-employed parents. My grandfather died of cancer when my Dad was in his pre-teens so when most kids were growing up in the glory days of America’s post-WWII victory my father worked after school to help his Mom (my Grandma) and his two younger sisters pay the bills. My Dad also served in the military and was overseas during the Korean Conflict so he and my Mom taught my sister, brother and me a thing or two about service, sacrifice and hustle.
I have been through daily challenges as an independent entrepreneur on my own for over 20 years now and not much rattles my cage. During the past dozen years, I have also worked for 80 or more of the best MBA schools in the world. Due to these experiences, I have had several conversations with my both of sons as they were growing up about developing important x-factor attributes not every college graduate has such as grit, self-reliance, initiative and perseverance.
Yet inside of classrooms, university centers and the friendly confines of college campuses, you have to question if we are teaching and reinforcing these same kinds of lessons. When students were offered grief counseling following the Presidential election, it was natural to wonder if Higher Ed had gone too far down the path of soft politics. Especially considering, “Academic researchers have shown that diversity of political opinion leads to better policy-making and diverse environments can make people smarter.”
So, why didn’t more Institutes of Higher Learning use the experience of the election as a demonstration of Americans exercising their right to vote or as lesson to teach millennials how to overcome adversity through action (e.g., post-inauguration Women’s March)?
Without military students, MBA schools will likely suffer from a lack of real diversity in programs. Plus, by enrolling more military applicants, schools can instill fortitude missing in classrooms and boost mental toughness in other students. It could be the most effective way for MBA schools to make America Great Again.