The Paths of Kemper Scholars Program Alumni

We often receive correspondence from Kemper Scholars Program alumni who have been graduated a few years. They write to update us on what has been happening with their lives and, often, what next steps they are taking. Reading and thinking about these correspondences has been quite rewarding. I think these communications feel rewarding because we all like to know that our efforts for and investments in people have had a positive return. The Kemper Foundation has over 60 years of investing in the professional and personal development of college students. Further, these are young men and women whom the Foundation staff have grown to care about, and we feel good that they are doing well. The first thing I notice is the reflectiveness they have continued to develop, a skill we emphasize in the Kemper Scholars Program. They show a clear sense of who they have become as persons and of what they need to be fulfilled and to make the kind of contribution they hope to make. Their choices for the future are not about what the next logical step in life is, but what the next meaningful step is. Second, they are thoughtful and strategic planners. Their communications uniformly say something like “I have decided I want to do X, so the next step is Y and that is what I am preparing to do.” It is good to see that they have taken the skills they developed in strategic planning for organizations and have applied them to strategically planning their own futures. Third, the correspondence all showed young men and women who are taking a broad...

“Plays Well with Others”: Working as part of a Team

Each week my Chicago church sends out an e-newsletter with reflections on spiritual matters and information about upcoming events. This week’s reflection by my pastor, Craig Mueller, contained some ideas I thought relevant to college students preparing to go into the professional world. The following three paragraphs contain his thoughts. “Earlier this week I heard a story on NPR on maps. Simon Garfield, a map expert noted that it’s easier these days to use GPS on a smart phone than it is to look at an actual map. “Garfield regretted that one of the losses is that we lose the beauty and romance of maps. But his concluding comments had a spiritual ring to me: ‘The other thing we lose, is a sense of how big the world is. Because now we look at our map, there’s a real sense of, ‘Get me to where I want to go.’ Now you get the feeling, actually, ‘It’s all about me’ … It’s a terribly egocentric way of looking at the world. So I think the view of where we are in the world, in the history of the world, is changing. And I think in a way it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest impacts of the digital and technological revolution – is how we see ourselves in the world.’ “As 2013 begins, it is good to reflect on the way we see ourselves in the world. Most of the time we are apt to reflect on our own financial situation, health, emotional landscape, and to-do list. Everything depends on how we are doing as an individual. It is a...

A Few Ideas about How to do your Job

There is a lot of advice out there about how to do your job well as you begin your professional career. I would like to add a couple pieces of advice we have learned from the experiences of Kemper Scholars. Never ask to leave early because your work for the day is complete. The work day is the work day: it is the time you are being paid for. If you have finished your list of tasks, ask your boss or a colleague if they have work you could do to help them out. The positive reputation you get will be worth much more than the extra hour of free time. Return missed phone calls and answer emails the same day. In your social life you may be used to texting rather than emailing. In the workplace email and telephoning remain the communication methods of choice in most places, especially when people need something quick. Make it a practice to respond to every one you receive each day before you leave the office. If you cannot respond with the information or do the task the person asked for, just tell them when you will get back to them. An immediate response will create a positive image of your responsiveness, organizational skills, and competence. And it is likely to get you a timely response when you need it. Listen to the entire voice mail message and read the entire email message carefully. Nothing is more frustrating than sending an email with a request for three things and getting a response to only one of them. Take the time to note...

Mindfulness and Leadership

Popular media have been reporting a lot about two things which, though not presented as such, are related. First, a plethora of reports indicate research shows that the practice of meditation can have profound health benefits. To denizens of university campuses of the 1960s and 1970s when Transcendental Meditation was the rage, such reports are not news. The other strain of reports has been about the dangers to mental functioning of ubiquitous technology. For example, its publisher Harper Collins, describes iBrain by Dr. Gary Small, this way: “One of America’s leading neuroscientists and experts on brain function and behavior, explores how technology’s unstoppable march forward has altered the way young minds develop, function, and interpret information. . . . While high-tech immersion can accelerate learning and boost creativity, it also has its glitches, among them the meteoric rise in ADD diagnoses, increased social isolation, and Internet addiction.” How are these two things related? I think they represent opposing faces of the same coin: the relationship of our minds and the world around us. We human beings often describe ourselves as “creatures of habit.” Another way to say that is that we like routine. Our predilection for routine is not surprising. We have evolved such ways to save the huge amount of energy our brains require and that we must supply by securing food. If we can do things on autopilot, our brains have to work less. The downside of this routinizing is that we often pay little attention to what is happening around us and fail to see the new and unusual hidden in routine events and tasks. If...

The 4 C Skill Set that Gets You Hired

The evidence keeps coming in that broadly educated people are more likely to rise to leadership positions in all kinds of organizations. The American Management Association’s AMA Critical Skills Survey reports on interviews with business executives about what they are looking for in employees. Because more and more routine jobs are seen as ripe for outsourcing and exporting, employment opportunities now focus on knowledge-based personal skills. Employers recognize more and more that change is coming everywhere and that their organizations must be nimble and able to move quickly to adapt to and even lead change. Adaptable skills will become even more important to organizations in the future. The AMA Critical Skills Survey defined the skills as follows: Critical thinking and problem solving—including the ability to make decisions, solve problems, and take action as appropriate; Effective communication—the ability to synthesize and transmit your ideas both in written and oral formats; Collaboration and team building—the ability to work effectively with others, including those from diverse groups and with opposing points of view; Creativity and innovation—the ability to see what’s NOT there and make something happen. About two-thirds of respondents said they look for and assess those qualities in new hires and in employees when they are considering promotions. It doesn’t take any expert in educational matters to see that these skills are not confined to any particular major or area of study; and they are certainly not more likely to be developed in a business or management curriculum than in the arts or humanities. They are the skills inherent in a good liberal arts education. The next time you hear people joke about liberal arts...

Who are the Good and Bad Guys in the Work World?

It seems like something we just didn’t need: “Three Cups of Deceit,” Jon Krakauer’s investigative report of a few years ago accusing Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea,” of malfeasance. Another model of doing good in the world got knocked off his pedestal, and another arrow appeared in the quiver of our national cynics. Prior to the exposé, those who had heard of Mortenson probably thought of him as a dedicated philanthropist who has spent his life building schools for Afghani girls. Byliner.com, the publisher of Krakauer’s report, calls it “A tragic tale of good intentions gone very wrong.” We’ve become pretty much inured to stories of big-time bankers, corporate CEOs, and the Bernie Madoffs of the world turning their backs on ethical and moral values to reach their goals, usually something connected to personal financial gain. It is easy for most of us to view them as bad guys. With Krakauer’s investigation we are forced to concede that people in the not-for-profit, do-good world can apparently also stretch the truth to reach their ends. But consider this: perhaps the lesson in Mortenson’s fall from grace is not “you can’t trust anyone.” Rather think of it as an argument for viewing the world with much more complexity. It is mentally easier to have good guys and bad guys and more satisfying to have them easily recognizable. That is why the great American mythic narrative, the “cowboy” story, traditionally dressed the good guys in white hats and the bad guys in black hats. No complexity; no confusion about whom to root for. I talk to many college students...