Why Leadership Matters

Because Dalton State students often fill the workforce locally, we listen closely to what industry and business leaders tell us they need from our graduates. There are many personal characteristics of a successful employee that often transcend the specifics of the job. I would argue that many of these attributes are leadership qualities.

Beyond the job-specific skills, employers describe the kinds of behaviors they need from their employees. These qualities include work ethic, integrity and a positive attitude, for example. At Dalton State, we strive to develop a student holistically, focusing both on the hard skills in a discipline as well as the soft skills of a good leader.

Certainly, we need our future educators to know their subject matter and have classroom management skills, but our teacher candidates also need to be respectful toward their students, their colleagues and their supervisors and to adjust their teaching methods to meet the needs of their ever-changing students. Our future health professionals need to know how to measure a patient’s blood pressure or take an X-ray, but they also need to understand the importance of arriving to work on time ready to work with patients from a wide array of backgrounds. Similarly, our future business leaders need to know how to read a stock market report or balance a budget or employ modern accounting principles, but they also need to be able to discern the appropriate circumstances for compromise without sacrificing ethical business practices and standards. And the personal qualities required of emergency management personnel and social workers are tremendous.

Routine jobs are increasingly becoming automated and job market growth is centered around work that involves creativity, persuasion, reasoning and emotional intelligence to resolve ethical dilemmas, to design novel solutions to both modern and historical challenges and to enrich our lives as thinking and feeling human beings. The future leaders of this community and this world will need to resolve challenges that do not have right and wrong answers and identify solutions that cannot simply be calculated with a computer. Therefore, in the future, the employment needs will be focused on jobs that require creative and principled leaders, regardless of job title.

When I am in the hospital, I marvel at the new tools and procedures that help sustain our lives and make aging easier and more comfortable than in previous generations. And yet I am also struck by the value of medical professionals who reassure me, coach me and encourage me through frightening and difficult medical issues. There is no substitute for the compassion and patience of a competent healthcare provider. Surely we can all think of a teacher that made a difference in our lives at some point. What was it about that teacher that stood out among all the others? I suspect such a special person displayed characteristics of patience and faith in our abilities as they challenged us to be better than we thought possible. These kinds of teachers seem to know just what to say and do to bring out the best in us. Future jobs will be different from the past, but there will always be work for individuals with leadership qualities.

At a college like Dalton State where it is hard to get lost and remain anonymous, our faculty and staff are committed to developing the whole person into a competent and productive adult by developing those other skills we think of as personal characteristics or leadership qualities. Our students all study a bit of mathematics/sciences, communication/writing and literature/arts regardless of their degree program or future career goals. More importantly, our students develop their analytical skills in a variety of settings. With that comes the ability to communicate effectively in multiple ways, to hold themselves and others accountable for their behaviors and outcomes and to work as part of a team to resolve issues and identify solutions to complex problems – all while operating with integrity under complex circumstances.

We also hope our students become lifelong learners. As career fields evolve, employees must continue to adapt to the new circumstances. Our country’s first astronauts were students of physics, astronomy, mathematics and engineering, for example. They did not major in “astronautics” but they acclimated as needed based upon the knowledge and critical thinking skills they acquired during their formal education years. Today’s graduates must be prepared for this same kind of career evolution. Our world is changing more rapidly than ever, and the demands on our leadership skills will be even greater for this next generation.

The future leaders of our community will grapple with challenges that make today’s issues seem simple. More than 50 years ago, the leaders of this community and state saw the value in investing in higher education for Northwest Georgia. We continue to invest in the future every time we produce a Dalton State graduate. Therefore, the education of our youth and young adults, including their leadership development, remains one of the best investments we can make for our future.