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April 10, 2018

Executive Function, Leaders and Stress

Photo by on Unsplash

Entrepreneurship. Leadership. Self-management. Creativity.

Today's careers require many of these skills if not all. And as the world goes flat, removing management levels in current organizations thus increasing every employee's empowerment (see America's Companies Are Going Flat), each employee must be more responsible, more independent and more resourceful.

A few years ago, a nationwide survey reported that close to half of College students felt they had not learned to be organized in high school. Recently, a private study from a federation of independent schools also found that students themselves found their organizational skills and study skills had  worsened, going from 70.8% of students finding they had good work habits, to a dramatic 38% who thought the same in 2010.

Why? It is hard to say and no single answer might be able to explain this, but there are definitely ways to improve the situation.

During the recent 2018 Atlis conference in Crystal City, one of the recurring discussion topics amongst participants was stress levels in students and staff. Students in independent schools definitely live through a lot of pressure to achieve the grades they need to enter in their school and program of choice in college. This pressure may be self-inflicted or come from external sources, but it is pressure nevertheless.

So how can we improve?

As entrepreneurs, we struggle with stress and pressure every day. We have found ways to cope with this in a variety of ways, but one of the most effective is that of getting organized. While we have built our own system and made our own choices tied to our environment, the same general strategy applies to any environment and it is basically divided in three sections: pedagogy, technology and culture.

Start with culture

The most important element of any strategy is to build and nurture the right culture. This culture must be infused in a variety of aspects of your organization. Every stakeholder must be sensitized to it, and even take place in the strategic planning of it's implementation. Leaders must model it as well and must partake in celebrating it whenever possible.

Technology as an enabler

Very often, we hear schools struggle with finding the right balance between technology and other means of working and communicating. We often take technological decisions based on a variety of conflicting needs, polarized between pedagogy and tech. Make sure your technology decisions are based on culture, and explore ways to enhance this culture by using tools which support it, not contradict it. If you are building autonomy and responsibility, find ways to use and select tools which enable and promote this.

How to deploy the strategy through pedagogy

Building culture and selecting tools are the foundations on which you can then build your pedagogical approaches layering on top of the most effective approach of all for any executive function-related skill: modelling. We often take for granted that skills such as these are innate when they are not which means they must be learned. While everyone has the capability to develop their EF skills, if no attention is given to learning them, they could remain stagnant through the years. This means that students which have a high IQ could succeed quite well in high school, but struggle in college when having to deal with more intense schedules, classes and deadlines or part-time jobs and social activities. Fortunately, building EF skills is easier than improving your IQ and has lasting effects for every student.

It is thus very important to build a strategy to build executive function skills in students, and not leave it to chance, as IQ will not compensate forever. As a matter of fact, many organizations such as the Bezos Foundation's Mind in the Making underline the work of researchers such as Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia who says:

If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions … actually predict success better than IQ tests.

So basically, EF is the new IQ and we have a much better chance of building executive skills in our children than changing their IQ.

If this topic is of interest to you, many aspects of this post were taken from an upcoming webinar we are hosting on May 23, 2018. Why not participate in our Webinar and join the conversation!