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Jacqueline Mozrall
Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 8:00pm

The following is one of Dean Mozrall’s columns published by the Rochester Business Journal

Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.  
—Clayton Christensen

It is telling that this quote comes from the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation, because it has never been more important to combine management and technology. The workplace provides constant reminders about the dominant role of technology—not at the expense of management, but rather as a reminder of the importance of leadership. 

A simple exercise in coaching reminded me of this. When teaching kids to play soccer, they quickly learn the fundamentals of how to respond to a ball rolled straight to them. But if you roll the ball to their side, they stand with their knees locked, watch the ball slide past them and then chase after it. Nearly every child does this, so the lesson here is they need to be taught how to react and respond. They must bend their knees and be flexible to “anticipate” where the ball will be going. Making this adjustment leads to success.

New companies are more like kids; they want to learn and are able to adjust quicker to rapid change. Meanwhile, well-established companies that have been successful, tend to stabilize and get comfortable in their status quo. This can lead to rigidity and inflexibility in response to the unrelenting, accelerating pace of change that technology and innovation bring. 

The antidote is leadership. Without strong leadership, the organization is going to calcify. And education is all about accelerating that process—teaching professionals to be innovative, creative and adaptable. With technology, social media, changing consumer tastes and all the things that make up our world, companies are evolving and escalating into new territories never seen before. 

Take a company in our own back yard. Corning Inc. has consistently adapted its product portfolio; they used to make glass dishes, then evolved into fiber optics before the bottom dropped out of that market. But the company continued to re-create and find different uses for glass, the latest being the scratch-resistant Gorilla glass for wearable devices—a product that lives up to its tagline: Always Tough. Always Innovating. 

There is no recipe cookbook for good management and leadership. One key element is to provide education that accelerates growth and maturation beyond what occurs naturally. For sure, our soccer kids eventually would adapt and figure out where the ball is going on their own, but they can accelerate their skill development when taught how to do it. Similarly, successful companies need their leaders to learn how to move fast and adjust their stance to play ball with their competitors.

A couple of years ago, Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology decided to take a different approach on how to train executive MBAs by using 360-degree leadership development evaluations focused on top 10 things we do as leaders. Participants had to rate themselves on their leadership skills; get feedback from their bosses, peers and direct reports; and then compare views they had of themselves with how others viewed them. It’s a pretty standard approach, and it’s been around for decades. We expanded the assessment beyond the workplace to the entire life of a leader. 

Why? Because we don’t check our management and leadership skills at the door when leaving the office. So, if you have a position in a community organization such as Little League, a soccer team or church or are planning a family reunion, we capture similar 360-degree data for evaluation. In doing so, deeper insights gained from friends and family provide much richer coaching experiences. This allows us to learn more about ourselves and leads to insights on how development really works. 

These tools can also help uncover our true incentives and what motivates us financially, socially, morally. Experiences away from work provide insights and opportunities for how we might perform differently and more optimally in these different, perhaps more comfortable environments. If we are open to more give and take outside the office, where we open ourselves up and invite reciprocating feedback, we can achieve new perspectives in the workplace.

Sometimes personal experiences can limit work potential. One executive in our leadership coaching program reflected on how she was raised in a loving, but very rigid and traditional family system—with a father who did not initially support her decision to pursue a career but eventually became her biggest cheerleader. However, the past prevented her from seeing herself as a capable leader, even as she was simultaneously having success leading others.  

Given the accelerating impact of technology and speed of business today, organizations need perceptive and agile leadership. One way to help ensure our leadership stays ahead is through the power of new management tools and educational coaching.

Jacqueline Mozrall is dean of Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Saunders College of Business is one of nine colleges at Rochester Institute of Technology and is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB). Recognized and ranked, Saunders is home to more than 1,000 enrolled students with over 18,000 alumni worldwide. Partnerships with RIT’s Venture Creations incubator and top ranked Albert J. Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship help Saunders College deliver a business education that is integrated with RIT’s world-leading technical and creative programs. Saunders College offers undergraduate (BS), Masters (MS), Masters of Business Administration (MBA), and Executive MBA (EMBA) programs where students gain real-world business experiences in the classroom and through cooperative education programs.

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