I have long believed that a major shortcoming of the American Education System is that it does not address two key skills that I believe are essential to properly prepare anyone to truly achieve the American Dream. If you think about your 12 years of required schooling, and even during your college or post-graduate studies, how were you prepared to:
- Establish and grow a business (or, how to not be an employee)?
- Establish and grow yourself as a leader?
Having graduated from the one of the best private high schools in the state, earning my Bachelor’s degree from a state university and subsequently my Master’s degree from a world-renowned university, I can honestly say that I felt completely unprepared to be a leader when first presented with the opportunity. I was asked to head a team of 6 people on a major engineering development program at a major defense contractor and I asked myself:
“How do I deal with these individuals who were just told that I was in charge of the effort? How do they feel about it? How do I make sure we all successfully accomplish our goal? How do I make sure everyone is on board?”
That was almost 30 years ago.
Luckily, I did figure out a way to successfully lead the team while still maintaining effective relationships with everyone on the project. Though in looking back, I know I was ill-prepared for the task.
Fast forwarding to my more formative years of progressing as a supervisor, to a manager, a director, and then a vice president, I found that each new role added another degree of separation between me and the people that were actually doing the work.
How does one really know how to manage that? I was lucky enough to work with people, and for a particular man, who exuded leadership. Our team was successful, achieving great success and growing rapidly. Since that time, I’ve helped another small business grow 5x over a period of two years and then 10 years ago started a company with two of my longtime friends and associates.
As President and CEO of this company, I again went through the school of hard knocks. We were successful and grew quickly early, fought through difficult years of agonizing industry slow-down, and are now growing again and further maturing as a business.
Looking back, I wish there was more I could have done to better prepare myself for my role as a leader. Isn’t there a methodical way of learning and measuring my progress as I grow?
What I found over my career was that preparing yourself for leadership in business is difficult, with effective training programs difficult to find. I am now a father of a United States Naval Academy Graduate and I can attest to the exemplary leadership development that occurs at our military academies, where the best high school graduates are forged into leaders of fighting men and women over their 4-year academic and professional training.
This transformation occurs in an immersive teaching environment that has been refined over centuries. For most other academic institutions, students are not afforded this type of development. There are numerous professional development workshops for skills such as effective writing, presentation skills and quality processes. But far fewer are available for leadership. Leadership is different.
Enter Andre Thornton. He is providing what I consider to be essential and fundamental to any young professional. Andre stepped out of his comfort zone at Lockheed Martin to pursue his dream of developing young professionals into business leaders. He has developed a methodical approach to leadership development that is a year-long program with phases that include: one-on-one instruction, independent projects, introspective analysis, peer assessments and other effective teaching methods.
I know this because I am a customer of Andre’s who has seen my up-and-coming leadership team improve dramatically because of this program. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for not only Andre and Whitman Consulting, but for my company as we continue to actively develop our future leaders through his instruction.