When you’re in the real world, things go wrong. You can interpret that as failure or as something you can learn from. Tom Kolditz believes we should be more in touch with what we get from our failures. Tom is an American retired Brigadier General, an educator, author, and consultant. He became the director of the Leader Development Program at the Yale School of Management and is the founding director of the Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. He says excellence in leadership is when you can create an organization where people will take a failure and analyze it in a forward looking way so that it doesn’t happen again and where there’s a presumption of competence among people in the organization so that the organization can learn and move forward. His book, In Extremis Leadership: Leading As If Your Life Depended On It, is based on more than 175 interviews taken on the ground in Iraq during combat operations. He has been named as a Thought Leader by the Leader to Leader Institute and as a Top Leader Development Professional by Leadership Excellence. In 2017, he was honored with the prestigious Warren Bennis Award for Excellence in Leadership.
We have such an interesting show because we have Tom Kolditz here. He’s the Executive Director of The Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. He’s a retired Brigadier General and author. This guy has such interesting knowledge about business and what they’re doing at Rice is fascinating.
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What Excellence In Leadership Is All About with Tom Kolditz
I am here with Tom Kolditz, who is an American retired Brigadier General, an educator, author, and consultant. He became the Director of the Leader Development Program at the Yale School of Management and is the Founding Director of the Anne and John Doerr Institute for the new leaders at Rice University. His book, In Extremis Leadership: Leading As If Your Life Depended On It, is based on more than 175 interviews taken on the ground in Iraq during combat operations. General Kolditz has been a skydiving instructor and served as the senior instructor for West Point Sport parachute team. He’s the recipient of multiple awards. I’m interested in what you’ve done. Welcome. It’s so nice to have you here.
Thanks, Diane. It’s great to be here.
I’m fascinated in what you do and it’s an honor to interview someone who has done so much for our country and to help so many others succeed. I’ve watched some of your speeches you’ve given and I’m very fascinated in your work with failure because in general, I’m writing a book about curiosity and one of the four factors that I think impede is our ability to be curious at times and failure is a big part of that. I hope you don’t mind if we talk about that a lot. I’m very fascinated in your work.
It tends to grind off people’s enthusiasm for risk taking and for entrepreneurship. We should be more in touch with what we get from our failures.
It’s an interesting area of work because what I found creating my curiosity assessment is how hard it is to come up with the questions that can capture what you want to capture. I was interested in the three questions you were asking in a group that you spoke to and how you came up with them. First of all, what led to your interest in studying failure? You’ve got this amazing background. Can you give some of your background and what led to all this?
In the military, I ran a lot of organizations and I was responsible for people’s actions. When you do that and when you’re in the real world, things go wrong. You can interpret that as failure. I had plenty to learn from. When I transitioned out of the military and I started working at Yale and traveling around, speaking with companies that were hiring people out of top tier universities, I discovered this population of people who almost never fail. They don’t have much experience with it. I found that they’re very insecure about it. They’re afraid of it. They don’t understand it. They assume that the first time they fail; their whole life is going to be over. As a result, they hold back sometimes. Having lived in organizations and knowing that things go wrong and bad things happen, I was fascinated by the fact that these people who were in these top tier universities and important business settings were so inexperienced at it and were allowing themselves to be influenced by that fear.
I’ve gone to so many meetings where they’ve changed the way we look at fear. I’m from the boomer generation and we didn’t look at failure as such a great task. It was something that you didn’t want to ever deal with because you’re going to get in trouble. When I go to these meetings and they talk about failure, they look at it as more of a learning experience and I’m glad to see that. What’s interesting in what you’re saying is this group, this population, the Ivy League people that have done so wonderfully and everything to get to where they are, then now they’ve got to deal with that.
It’s not your typical population though and when you get out in the working world. It is in the higher levels, I shouldn’t say it isn’t, but in general, you can get people from all over that get into leadership positions that maybe didn’t go to Harvard or Yale or some of those top universities, but they don’t want to fail either. It’s something that people are worried about because you’ve experienced this problem and if you have failed in the past and then you get this, “I don’t want to go through that again.” Is it almost worse to have failed or not to have failed in the past?
I hate failure. It’s painful, it’s disruptive, and so I don’t approach this issue of failure in a cooperative way, but I’m a realist. In reality, failures are going to happen and the real trick to surviving them is first of all, not trying to dodge responsibility for them but changing the conversation into something that’s forward looking rather than backward looking. In many work settings, anytime anything goes wrong, there’s a tremendous amount of finger pointing and dodging of responsibility. That is destructive to the organization, but when you can create an organization where people will take a failure and analyze it in a forward looking way so that it doesn’t happen again and where there’s a presumption of competence among people in the organization, then the organization can learn and move forward.
If there’s one thing that saved me across multiple failures that I had was that I was in groups of people where there was a presumption of competence. These were high performing military units. When something bad happened, we assumed it was because of circumstances or because of the enemy or because of something else, then we took action to make sure that we wouldn’t get hurt that way again. We didn’t just assume that it was because of an incompetent person because we didn’t look at each other that way.
It’s a different world. I teach for different universities and one of them is a military university, the military students. You get these different perspectives on this. I came from a very competitive family, so I’m with you. I hate failure. It’s tough. I found it interesting when you were talking about the different questions that you asked that you got bi-modal responses to some of them. Can we go over some of those questions and how you came up with them and why you think you got the responses you got? Your first question that you ask people is, “If I do poorly at something, I usually prefer not to let anyone know?” Then people had to respond to everywhere from agree to strongly disagree on that. What were you trying to get out of that question and how did you come up with that question?
All three of the questions are single items from fear of failure personality measures. What they’re designed to do is detect in individuals an uncommon fear of failure. We would expect in most populations for any personality trait to be normally distributed. The classic normal distribution, but what I find with audiences when I do this fear of failure measure is that the distributions are almost bi-modal. There’s a group at the bottom and then a group at the top.
What that tells me is that either because of some early experience or inherent qualities of personality that there is a group of people out there who have a much stronger fear of failure than their peers. What the research shows is that fear of failure is mostly generated through parenting, in particular, parenting by mothers. I’m always interested in helping to identify those individuals and trying to raise their own awareness of their fear of failure. Once you have a mental awareness of it, you can do something about it. You can make different decisions; you can check yourself. That’s one of the reasons why I use those questions.
The other questions were, “When I compete with someone who seems better than me, I give up trying.” Then the third question was, “I sometimes avoid difficult task because I’m afraid of making mistakes.” These are all things that I’m looking at with the curiosity element in a way. I agree. You’ve got to figure out what’s holding you back and if you figure out your fear of failure is holding you back, how do you get over that fear? Then, what do you do?
One of the really important aspects of learning to live with failure is learning to publicly and unapologetically take credit for that failure. As long as we’re trying to wriggle out or dodge responsibility or the spotlight, we never really face up to the fact that these things are going to happen. I found it pretty empowering over the years when things would go badly to simply say right off the bat, “This is my fault and I know how to fix it.” It makes it very difficult for other people to go after you when you fully admit that. They no longer have to convince you that you were the cause of the failure. You said, “I did it.” Here’s the important part about that in leader development. That’s really what I do. I develop leaders. If a leader says that a bad thing that happened was not their responsibility, then what they’re saying is they have no control over it. Once a leader advocates control, they’re powerless.
As soon as you admit responsibility for something bad that happens and you say, “I should have made different decisions, or I should have done different things so that wouldn’t happen.” Essentially, what you’re saying is, “I got this. As a leader, I can control this, and I can make things better.” I always council leaders never point fingers at other people and say that the bad thing that happened in your organization was due to them. When you do that, you essentially told everyone you’re not in charge, that other circumstances are in charge of the outcomes in your organization. That’s a terrible position for a leader to be in, much worse than the position of saying, “This bad thing happened, and it was my responsibility and my fault.”
I liked that you focus on understandings interpersonal skills. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence and those are such important aspects in terms of leadership. You were talking about people need to understand themselves and how others view them, so that you can understand how to say the right things. If you’re dealing with somebody you don’t understand how to relate with them, how do you help people in that respect?
I try to reframe things for them. I try to show them that there’s a different way of seeing themselves. This came rushing to the forefront for me under circumstances where I was being coached and the coach had asked me what I wanted to work on. My circumstances were such that I was in a difficult startup with a lot of performance demands. I had a very sick child. I had a daughter that was on a heart transplant list. I had tremendous pressures and I said, “I feel like I need to work on my resilience. I just don’t think I’m very resilient. I’m not dealing with this the way that I ought to.” The coach looked at me for a second and she said, “Let me get this straight. You’re performing in your job, you’re getting things done, you’re able to handle these medical circumstances from a distance, getting on and off planes once a week to go be supportive and you’re getting all this done. What do you think resilience looks like?”
That was a pretty powerful thing for that coach to say to me because what it was doing is it was teaching me to see myself through the eyes of other people and that allowed me to get a better understanding of who I was and what I was good at and what I was not good at. This mental awareness of how other people view you is important in all kinds of ways. I wasn’t trying to influence that coach. That coach was trying to influence me. By reflecting that back on me, it gave me tremendous personal insight and I was appreciative for that.
So many people are afraid of letting other people down. I’ve had so many people on the show who were pretty much agreed with what I’ve had a few consultants say as far as leaders often think that people know more than they know or are stronger than they think they are. A lot of us in leadership positions don’t want people to know that we have any sense of that we don’t have it all under control. It’s human nature to have those feelings, isn’t it?
It is, and leaders need to be reminded of that. I just built out this Leader Development Enterprise at Rice. We were going through an organization development process and people around the room were putting up on the wall with stickies and butcher paper charts what their responsibilities were and what they felt they needed in order to perform. I was there doing my little chart, putting down the things that I was responsible for, developing donors and designing the programs and so forth. Then in the list of things that I said that I needed, I said something along the lines of, “I need to know every once in a while, that what I’m doing is working and that it’s effective and that people appreciate that.”
My folks who were in the room at the time were surprised by that. They said, “It didn’t occur to us that you needed support. We keep asking you for your support. You’re a leader so you’re supposed to know what we need. It didn’t even occur to us that you need stuff, too.” I often counsel leaders over and over again, be kind to yourself. A lot of us who step up to these leader roles are our own worst critics. We beat ourselves up all the time and every once in a while, we just need to stop that, step back, and just be a little kinder to ourselves. Not in a self-congratulatory way, but just take a breath and say, “I’m doing the best I can, and things were going pretty well. Now on to the next thing.” People don’t do that and all of us are shocked and concerned about the increase of suicides in our country. Part of that is people just beating themselves up and not going to other people for any kind of support.
It is so important to have support. Leaders need to surround themselves with people who don’t know everything. You can’t know everything. You think you put so much pressure on yourself to know all these things. I had Keith Krach on my show who’s the Chairman of DocuSign. He was talking about, which supported what you were saying, a lot came from his mother on his curiosity. She had a great influence on him, but he was saying that he surrounds himself with people who know the thing. You can’t know everything. Do you think leaders think that they need to know everything? You can’t be a CFO and a CEO and everything. It’s challenging. How do you surround yourself with the people who know what you don’t know and if you don’t know enough about that, know that you’ve picked the right people?
I don’t think I’ve ever met a leader who didn’t have a little bit of insecurity about their experience and abilities. When I have met those kinds of leaders, they’ve been headed for a fall because they’re so overconfidence and so arrogant that it’s destructive to them. I’ve worked at West Point for twelve years in the leadership department there, and so I talked to a lot of young people who were really concerned because they were going to be 22 years old. They were going to have 30 or 40 people in a platoon and a lot of them were going to be 35 to 45-year-old sergeants who’d been to combat multiple times. They were always concerned about not knowing everything and not knowing what those other people know.
I always told them that, “You should be good and understand the things that you’re supposed to be good at.” For those young lieutenants, it was the basics of being a soldier in many respects, how to take a machine gun apart, how to use the instruments inside the tank or artillery pieces, and how to order supplies and get and get things. At the same time, I told them that as long as you knew the things you were supposed to know, people would support you with their knowledge and their ability because they see that as their role and the only time that leaders running into trouble with not knowing something, it’s just they don’t admit it. They begin to operate as if they do know everything. It’s very transparent that they don’t, so people lose respect for them and they have problems. The higher you go in organizations, the more people around you are going to have deep technical knowledge in their areas that you couldn’t possibly match. You have to be good at listening and really good at spotting phoneys.
How do you do that?
It’s partly experience. When you’ve listened to people talk about their work, the insecurities and the deflection and the deceit begin to pop out. You can tell when you’re being sold a bill of goods if you’ve listened to this thing and see this kind of thing for many times. That enhanced listening is a really important leader skill. Hand in glove with that is the ability to ask intelligent questions. A leader that walks in the room and just says, “How are things going?” What do they expect? People are going to say, “It’s going fine,” but when you ask a pointed question about an individual’s area, are they getting the resources they need? Are they accomplishing the goals that they have? Do they have goals? What are their goals? That pointed questioning is important in terms of uncovering talent and people that aren’t doing so well because if you just breezed through your organization with this superficial chit chat questioning, you won’t know anything about what’s going on. All of us need to pay attention to the kinds of questions we ask in the workplace.
In how you ask, the tone makes a difference to me. It’s interesting because I’ve interviewed other brigadier generals. I don’t know if you know Olin Oedekoven, but I know him pretty well and I’ve interviewed him. He has the same tone to me that you have in this humble quality that you wouldn’t expect from somebody who has achieved what you have achieved. How do you get to that level where you’ve done a lot in your life, but you still have this real approachability? You said your mother had an influence. I’m curious to hear what impact do you think she had maybe on that.
I grew up in a town of 1,800 people in Southern Illinois and in a town like that, there’s virtually no anonymity. Everyone knows everyone else. There’s very little privacy. If you do something, the windows are open, and the neighbors know then everybody knows. I told a group of boys at Texas Boys State, I was talking to them about lying and I said, “In the town where I grew up, if you lied to someone, they would talk about it for five years and remember it for 50 years.” It’s that close community that begins to put demands on you. In my mother’s case, she was a nurse and she stopped working as a nurse to take care of my little brother and I, but that didn’t mean she stopped nursing. In a small town like that, there’s uneven access to medical care and there’s a lot of need by elderly people and sick people. She just went around taking blood pressures and giving injections and doing whatever needed to be done for that whole community.
In the process of that, I got exposed to people with a lot of different capacities, people that had physical challenges and sometimes people that were not bright, not only didn’t have education but also had some mental challenges. I was taught at a really early age, “All of us have our challenges and it’s our job to take care of each other.” Then as I grew as a leader and started running organizations, it was pretty easy for me to accept this notion that leaders are there to help take care of other people and to make people’s lives better and organizations better. It was not about me on. It’s not about personal advocacy or advancement.
I get frustrated sometimes with the leader development enterprise, speaking broadly, because so much of it is individual self-promotion. I don’t begrudge people that because many people operate as individual consultants and coaches and things, but it sometimes leads to this perception that being a leader is also this brand making, individual promotion. In fact, it could be just about the opposite. Leaders should work hard to make themselves obsolete in the organization. They should work hard to make sure that the organization begins to learn by itself, run itself, and has a collective set of values. If the leader has to physically be there all the time for that to happen, then they’re failing in some way. All of that needs to be put into the organization. Then eventually, the leader can move on and do other things and feel good about the fact that they’ve left a legacy.
One of the things I learned as a pretty young officer, I learned from a guy named Doc Johnson. He was a one-star general and he’s very bombastic. He did a lot of his work in Vietnam and he felt like the army had been sterilized away from the realities of the fact that it’s built to kill people, that that’s a big part of being a soldier is being willing to use violence. He had these great ideas about leadership and one of the things he told me early on that’s really inspired me is that, “You can do a lot of things in life that seemed to matter. You can make lots of money, you can write books, you can build buildings, you can create companies. Almost all of that will go away in your lifetime.
The books become irrelevant. Nobody reads them more. Buildings get renamed or torn down or renovated or what have you. When you can put your mark and your impact on the development of other people, when you can change other people’s lives for the better, that pays forward forever.” He argued that developing people is the only lasting legacy that a leader can really produce. I’ve always been inspired by that. That’s why I spend most of my time now trying to do some form of leader development.
You have done some amazing work with that and your book is a great book. A lot of people could learn so much from what you’ve done. I was hoping you would share how they could find out more about your work and your book.
My book is pretty easy. It’s on Amazon. It’s about how we learn about leadership from watching people who lead in dangerous places. The managerial aspects of running organizations get stripped away when people are afraid. That’s what the book’s about. It’s had a lot of applicability in the banking sector during its crisis and not just for others, not just military or police or firefighters, but people who have to face personal crises. I’ll also tell you that I have never taken a dime of royalties from that book. I defer all the royalties to do nonprofits, the West Point Association of Graduates and the Frances Hesselbein Institute in New York City, which is a social sector leadership institute. That’s how you can get involved with that book, is to simply read it.
The other work that I’m doing now at Rice that I’m very passionate about is a startup. In January 2016, there were two people working here and now we have 87 in various capacities. We develop about a third of the university’s students, graduate and undergraduate. We take the approach that everyone who comes to university should get the kind of high quality leader development that they would get in a company. We use only professional people, professional coaches. We offer professional leadership coach to every student in the school who wants it, which is a remarkable benefit for this university
Do you do anything with soft skills with that? What kind of skills are you developing?
We let the students to tell us what they need. We give them some emotional intelligence measures and EQI and some other things. Then they sit down for 90 minutes for a session with their coach and they create a developmental plan that’s tailored to each individual student. The student can define what leadership is for them. They can work on making their strengths more impactful or they can work on remediating some deficiencies if they feel that they have them. All of it’s tailored to the individual. That allows us to move around the university and deal with the levels of diversity that we have here. 30% of our students are international students that we work with. We work with men, we work with women, and we are fanatical measures of outcomes. In our organization, we have a research psychologist who runs a team and their only function is to measure outcomes.
They don’t have to create programs or fixed programs. They just tell us whether the programs are having a measurable impact on student’s capacity to lead. That has been game changing because most universities do a lot of things that they claim leader development, but they don’t measure outcomes. In fact, when you look at the types of things, the little retreats and the workshops and the leaders, motivational speakers and things, most of that doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. It doesn’t matter very much, but it’s entertaining. Universities spend hundreds of millions of dollars on those kinds of activities every year, but because they’re not measuring their outcomes, they’re not necessarily aware of what they are or aren’t getting for their money. For the price of one good leadership speaker, I can give 40 or 50 students a professional coach for a whole semester each.
Those coaches are professors? Who are these coaches?
No, these are professional coaches from the Houston Business Community, so these are the same people that are coaching senior vice presidents in firms and c-level leaders. What we have found is that mentors or professors or other people, they do their jobs pretty well and they’re okay for career development. Teaching an engineer how to get into an engineering company let’s say, but when it comes to leader development, they’re just not very good. They’re just not good at it and they can’t compete with a coach who’s been certified by the International Coach Federation, has a master’s degree in organizational psychology, and has coached 40 executives in more than 1,500 sessions. That’s the kind of person we have working one-on-one with students. Professionalism makes all the difference in the world in terms of getting measured outcomes and we are transforming students’ lives here at large scale. In the last eighteen months, we’ve coached more than 1,400 students.
What are you measuring? What kind of outcomes are you looking for and how are you measuring that?
We look at three different types of outcomes, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional. The behavioral outcomes that we pay attention to our 21 behavioral observable competencies that we tend to work with students on not all 21 at once. A student might be working on one or two competencies. We also measured leader identity as a cognitive variable and we’re interested in that. We think probably the most important thing to produce is this degree of self-confidence and self-awareness in a young person that, “I’m a leader. I could run a company. I could build a nonprofit. I can lead my family through a tragedy.” This awareness that they can lead. You said that you’ve studied emotional intelligence, so you understand the things that we’re looking at there. The ability to control one’s own emotions, the ability to influence the emotions of other people. We measure that and sometimes coaches work on that with students. Those are the things that we measure.
You mentioned the EQI. Is that the instrument you use because that’s what I used in my research, or do you use something else to measure emotional intelligence?
Predominantly, we use the EQI. We’ve also found some special applications for the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. It’s a little more cumbersome to use, but it’s also in my view the gold standard if you want to measure it and have a deep understanding of it. Those are the things that we measure, and we measure them ruthlessly. If we have a program or a process that is not creating measurable differences in those things, we immediately stop. When we have something that does produce those, we throw more money at it. It’s pretty simple. It’s just honesty.
How much time do you give something before you stop? How do you determine if it’s working or not?
We’ll do usually one small scale pilot, twelve people, then we’ll do a larger scale pilot to test our systems. In our coaching program, the larger pilot was 266 students. Then we open it up. We worked very hard to accommodate every student that wants our developmental experience. Most leadership programs try to find the twenty best student leaders or people have to compete to get in to them. We are disrupting that whole thing. We think that if a student goes to a great college or university that in addition to getting an education, they ought to be developed as leaders in a professional way. Not just the hokey leader attainment stuff, but serious development like they would get if they were in a company that was working on high potentials. Because at Rice University, every one of our students is a high-potential. We don’t think of any of them as a non-high potential student.
Do they all have to be in Houston to get this? Do you do any virtual or is it all on campus?
We’ve done some virtual coaching and it’s pretty successful. A student say that they prefer face-to-face coaching, but when we measure the outcomes of the coaching, there’s very little difference between coaching by Skype or coaching face-to-face. We have students that are sometimes on important developmental experiences that are not in Houston. The typical example of that would be a semester abroad. We have taken steps to give coaches to students who are not in the country and it works fine. The other thing we do when we spot a student who’s engaged in something that could be highly developmental, like being an activist, “Black lives matters, pro-choice Rice.” We have a young lady who’s working hard to get a bicycle rules changed to lower the number of bicycle fatalities in Houston. We always reach out to student activists and offer them a professional coach regardless of what their sense of advocacy is. We don’t care what the topic is. We just want them to have a great developmental experience while they’re passionately working in their activist role. We do that as well as a form of outreach.
You mentioned 21 behaviors when you look at their behavioral things. What are the top behavioral issues that you think you need to work on to get people to be good leaders?
Self-confidence, self-control, and assertiveness. Those are probably the three biggest competencies. We use as a start point for identifying competencies the validated competencies that Korn Ferry have put together in their work. We liked their work and so we use that as a start point. Then we pulled together a lot of knowledgeable people, a focus group, and say, “Here’s what we want to concentrate on.” At the end of the day, it’s up to students to tell us what they want to work on. As soon as you make this stock leadership definition, it creates an enormous food fight among academics. Everybody wants to argue definitions and it’s not useful, so we don’t do that. We focus on leader development rather than defining leadership and we make sure that we’re helping people along the way, that they are in fact advancing.
In the coaching program, the percentage of students who would recommend the experience to other students, either recommend or strongly recommend, is like 98%. I It is a remarkable satisfaction rate. We care more about behavioral and cognitive outcomes than we do with satisfaction, but if we weren’t producing those outcomes, I guarantee you that students would not be satisfied. The time is the coin of the realm here and if you waste students’ time, you’re done.
You mentioned that they picked up that work on the things that they like, which brings to mind like Rath’s StrengthsFinder. Do you think that you sometimes feel comfortable working on the things you’re already good at? What do you think about that? Do you work on the things that you’re good at or not?
We’re big believers in that for students. Most of our students are pretty talented in a lot of ways. The way I deal with that anecdotally with them is I say, “Think of your favorite professional athlete.” Take Big Papi, David Ortiz in the Boston Red Sox. Incredible hitter. This guy has biceps the size of my thighs. You don’t go to Big Papi and say, “You’re not a very good pitcher, so let’s work on your pitching deficiency.” Instead, you give him two or three batting coaches and you make him the very best batter on that team and that’s what we do with strengths with our students. If we have a student who is a good communicator, we teach them how to use that communications ability as a super strength in their leadership.
If we have a student that isn’t that extroverted communicator, but they tend to be more introverted and analytical, we can teach them how to keep their mouth shut until they’ve figured out an answer for an issue. Then how to pronounce that, to drop that on the group in a way that’s impactful and everybody in the room turns to them and they’re like, “This person’s water’s run deep.” You can take almost any strength and turn it into a powerful leadership tool. It’s much easier than trying to remediate because if you have somebody that’s a C minus or a D in communication, you can work with them a lot. You might be able to get them to a C plus B minus, but it will never be powerful for them. It’s better to work on a strength and teach them how to use it as a tool than try to remediate the things that they’re not that great at.
What about interpersonal relationships, emotional intelligence-based issues though? If they lack interpersonal skills, do you focus on that?
Sometimes when we frame how a person interacts with other people as lacking interpersonal skills, I think more what it is they’re either they’re unaware of their skills or it’s harder for them to communicate in ways that consider where that other person is. I do think we can make terrific improvement in students’ abilities in terms of interpersonal influence and that’s what we teach. If we had to come up with a stock definition of leadership, it’s going to be some form of interpersonal influence. That’s the approach we take. Many of us here in the institute are psychologists. I’m a social psychologist. Our metrics person is a research oriented social psychologist. We work with anthropologists, we have sociologists, org behavior, industrial organizational psychologist. All of us are about psychological influence in some way. That’s what we try to teach our students.
My work as the MBA program chair, I look at a lot of the things that you guys are talking about there. Did you say this was undergrad or grad? I’m curious if you see any differences in the male and the female in their outcomes. Is there any difference?
It is both graduate and undergraduate students. There’re seven schools at Rice, business, architecture, music, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering. We work with all of those students. We’re not under a dean. We work for the President and university. In terms of women, that’s a huge good news story for us because when our metrics team does the pretesting of the student populations, women are significantly below men on the measures that we’re looking for as indicators of leadership, but almost without exception, when women finished with coaching or with one of our other programs, they have fully caught up to the men. There’s no difference. It’s been inspiring for us because one of the things that would be difficult for us is if we had to run a lot of single demographic programs, women’s programs, first generation college student programs, international student programs.
What we find is when you work with people one-on-one, that’s the highest level of diversity you can get. People’s needs wind up being met by these professional leader developers. You don’t need these single demographic programs. They’re cumbersome and they’re expensive. At the end of the day, they’re unnecessary if you have a program that offers intense one-on-one experiences. We don’t plan to do any of those. We plan to keep working at the individual level of diversity and being effective at that. We’ve also had great success with international students.
They patterned much like the women where at the beginning, they’re below the mean, but by the time they’re finished with the programs, they’re fully caught up. Many of them, they come from cultures where it’s not a perception that leaders could be developed. It’s a perception that leaders have to be appointed, they have to be part of a family. For them, when they discover, “I can get better at this. I didn’t think leadership was in the cards for me, but now they’re telling me I can run my own company,” it’s really fulfilling to talk to young people like that, whether they come from China or Mexico or Korea, wherever our international student populations from.
Can you have this program completely virtual or is it that still they have to go to Houston?
We’re figuring out ways to go more virtually specifically. We have a coach training course that we developed. It’s accredited by the International Coach Federation for business coaches that we have taught several times to groups of twenty or more students, so that our students literally have the same kind of coaching skills that you would begin to find in relatively young coaches in the business community. We’re going to figure out a way to export that. No other school does that. There are no other opportunities for students to get that level of coach training. There may be like a weekend workshop or something, but that’s the bane of the whole leader development industry. It’s too little, too cheap, too unprofessional, and it doesn’t have impact at that level.
I know a lot of people are trying to expand internationally and virtually and trying to develop that reach in a meaningful way like what you’re talking about. All the stuff you’re doing is so fascinating. Are there any websites you want to share or any information you’d like to share? Do you have anything else that you’d share?
I told you that we are into measurement in terms of our programming and then also in terms of our own organization, how to run the organization. The reason we’re here is because of a highly successful Rice graduate named John Doerr. John and his wife, Anne, are both rice graduates. John Doerr is venture capitalist who put the money under Google and Twitter and Intuit and Amazon. He picked these incredible companies to build and he has a book out called Measure What Matters. It’s a New York Times bestseller. It is one of the best leadership books I’ve ever read. It basically talks about how to create a goal setting culture in an organization.
He did that with Google. He did it with Bono’s Foundation. He’s now on the Obama Foundation. He’s been the Johnny Appleseed of how to set goals in organizations and make them motivational rather than tied to compensation or the old-style management by yelling at people once a year. It’s a terrific book. He’s got a TED Talk out on it. I would also point to that is a great opportunity for people to learn something new about leadership. I have hundreds and hundreds of leadership books and two thirds of them are the same. They don’t break any new ground, but this Measure What Matters’ focus is completely new and impactful.
This has been so much fun. It’s very educational. Thank you so much for being on the show.
It’s terrific to be asked and I appreciate it. I hope you have good luck with it.
Thank you so much to Tom. I’m always interested in what different universities do with their programs and leadership, and it sounds like they have a unique spin on it at Rice. I hope all of you take some time to look into his information. He is a very interesting man and all the stuff that he does to help people is so inspiring. I also hope that if you’ve missed any past episodes that you check out DrDianeHamilton.com. You can go to the radio show there. You could find out more about my consulting and speaking and just about anything on this site that you need to know that we cover here on the show. I hope you join us the next time for Take the Lead Radio.
About Tom Kolditz
Tom Kolditz is an American retired Brigadier General, an educator, author, and consultant. He became the Director of the Leader Development Program at the Yale School of Management and is the founding Director of the Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. His book, In Extremis Leadership: Leading as if Your Life Depended on It, is based on more than 175 interviews taken on the ground in Iraq during combat operations. General Kolditz has been a skydiving instructor and has served as the senior instructor for the West Point Sport Parachute Team. General Kolditz is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, the Army’s second highest award in order of precedence. He has been named as a leadership Thought Leader by the Leader to Leader Institute and as a Top Leader Development Professional by Leadership Excellence. In 2017, he was honored with the prestigious Warren Bennis Award for Excellence in Leadership.