Two articles in the current issue of Korn/Ferry Briefings on Talent & Leadership really hit home. Each delves into the value of a liberal arts education as the ideal formative background for leadership. The authors (leaders themselves) and other leaders highlighted/cited have liberal arts backgrounds to which they return constantly as they contemplate strategy, vision, and the development of talent in their organizations. For them, the liberal arts trained them to look at context. Context is everything.
Speaking of context, what resonated all the more strongly with me was the context within which these articles were placed. This issue of Briefings centers on education, with a notable focus on STEM jobs, programs, initiatives, etc.
For all the talk about STEM in this issue, these heavy-hitting articles extoled the virtues of a liberal arts background. These leaders (including a military leader and a Fortune 100 leader) were adamant about honing one's mind across disciplines, analyzing, synthesizing...tying together ideas, peoples, themes, movements. So much aligns with what we value in independent schools.
The STEM jobs are very real, yet I was moved by these leaders' arguments in favor of a full-blown liberal arts background for those who aspire to leadership. The liberal arts allow a person to contextualize what is happening (or needs to happen) in an organization by considering similarly-structured events, whether from history or literature. There is strength to be drawn from historical or literary figures as well, strength that impacts a leader's character and helps to inform his/her decisions. Nowhere was this more evident than in some coursework I completed this summer: the group was predominantly engineers (STEM folks, to be sure), and yet we worked through a decision-making problem by considering the context of Shakespeare's Hamlet. It was, in a word, powerful.
What worries me about the preponderance of STEM initiatives (buildings, programs, etc.) in independent schools is that, without meaning to, yet by not paying close enough attention, our schools may downplay (or, even worse, dismiss and then lose) the contextual value that liberal arts provide, all in an effort to appear competitive on the STEM front.
And for what gain?