Will Our Future Leaders Need to Call Their Moms?

Posted January 8, 2014 in Latest News & Insights

I had lunch with some old friends a few weeks ago. One of them was someone I’d known throughout University. She was the epitome of a model student. She worked and studied hard, got great marks and participated in on-campus activities. On this day though – she dropped a bombshell that still has me scratching my head. Her son is a first year business student at a prominent university. He was doing really well and she was very proud. Today though, she was exhausted. Turns out, mom (my friend) had been up most of the night editing his final paper so he could turn it in on time. Apparently, she reviewed and edited all his papers. I almost fell off my chair.

In addition to my work as a consultant, I’m a University professor. And when I reflect on the long term implications of what my friend is doing, what it means for our future business leaders, I shudder. And here’s the scariest part – she’s not alone! I did an informal survey of other friends, and many of them were doing the same. When I asked why she felt compelled to do this, the answer was simple. “He wants good marks. Without good marks, he won’t get into a graduate program.”

Let’s walk forward a few years. What kind of business leader will he become? Will he need to call home every time he writes an important report or must make a critical decision? Or worse yet, will he feel he needs to call home simply because he never developed confidence in his own judgement? And on a deeper level, what does this say about ethics? If this young man is comfortable claiming authorship for papers he doesn’t write on his own now, what will he take credit for in the future? Will he be that leader who puts his name to ideas and work prepared by others? And…will he see anything wrong with this behaviour? I doubt it.

Imagine a workplace filled with people who have never really been evaluated or tested on their own merits. They’ve never had to own their weaknesses, work to overcome them and feel pride in that accomplishment. I learned more from the paper I received 56% on in my first year of university than any of the others. And guess what, it didn’t stop me from going to graduate school or starting a business or any of the other things I’ve gone on to do. It taught me to keep trying, to strive to be better and take responsibility for outcomes.

To say I’m disappointed in what I’ve discovered is an understatement. I’m disappointed that so many of my friends are doing variations of this for their kids. And I’m also disappointed that these kids are expecting and accepting this kind of assistance. I read some incredibly good papers this term and it never occurred to me that these students might be getting outside help. I took the time to write personal notes of congratulations to each, praising their excellence and thanking them for such fine work. It all feels empty now.

If you see yourself in this blog, take a moment and reflect. What kind of leader are you grooming? And then be thankful you won’t have to report to them. To err is human. Take that away and….well you get the picture. I’d rather work for a human.

Brenda Marshall, Ph.D.


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