Two Skills Every Student Needs Before Graduation

There’s an ongoing tension that educational leaders constantly feel on their jobs. Almost every educator I interact with these days faces a tension between two realities:

  1. The need to teach to the test, so students score high enough to get funding.
  2. The desire to prepare students to be life and career ready upon graduation.

This is the dilemma of 21st century education. The conversation goes on in both K-12 contexts and in higher education.  We know our ultimate job is career readiness, but our immediate job is test scores.

Even in NCAA athletics, a tension exists between spending genuine time with student athletes, building a relationship and cultivating job skills, on the one hand, and simply wining games, matches and meets on the other. My friend Janine Oman, Deputy Director of Athletics at The Ohio State University, acknowledged recently that coaches assume they’re building relationships and trust with students, but feel the pressure to simply talk X’s and 0’s. Students can sometimes wonder if their coach really cares about their personal life and future. Once again, the tension is between the “immediate” and the “ultimate.”

So, is there ground in the middle that enables us to do both?

Two Qualities Employers Look for in Hiring

I wonder if we decided to cultivate two skill sets, we might see improvement in both our immediate goals and our ultimate goals as educators, leaders and parents. Below, I share two surveys recently taken among employers that not only makes a graduate more valuable in the long run, but makes a student more valuable right now in the classroom or on the team.


According to a 2016 survey of employers—the number one quality sought for when hiring team members is the very human quality of leadership. Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University in Boston reports that more than 80% of respondents indicated they look for some form of leadership on their resume when they hire; followed by ability to work on a team, 79%.

Interestingly, even though there are only a set number of leadership positions at any given place of employment—employers said they want everyone onboarding to the team to think and act like a leader. In other words, it’s not all about a position but a disposition. This data should encourage us to reflect: How are we cultivating leadership skills and qualities in our students?


In another survey, executives reported the top skill they desire when hiring new team members is strong speaking skills. In fact, clear oral communication skills received the number one spot among fifteen job skills employers and hiring managers seek. The numbers showed 8 in 10 executives, and 9 in 10 hiring managers (Human Resource Managers) identified it as very important in new hires right out of college. Unfortunately, those same employers say they have a tough time finding job candidates who are good communicators, according to a survey released recently. Oral communication ranked higher than critical thinking, ethical decision-making or teamwork skills. This should encourage us to ask: How are we cultivating strong communication skills (beyond a screen) in our students?

I don’t have an easy answer to this dilemma.

Two Big Priorities

I do believe we can find ways in our daily schedules to improve our students by building leadership and communication skills. By this I mean, taking time in the midst of our teaching hard skills, like math, reading, science, etc., and focus on soft skills like communication and leadership. I know dozens of high school principals, teachers, college professors, counselors and coaches who do this each week. They’ve simply added to what “compliance” requires of them to build ready-for-life graduates. How do they do this in the midst of a busy schedule?

  1. Some require students to do a math problem on the white board (or smart board) and articulate exactly what their strategy was in solving a problem.
  2. Some hand over part of the class time to the students to lead their peers in preparing for an exam, thus making them “leaders” with a clear goal.
  3. Some coaches turn one of the weekly practices over to the athletes, letting them lead and communicate with their teammates the drills that day and why.

Since launching Growing Leaders in 2003, I’ve sought to resource educators, coaches, employers and parents to develop students to be good leaders and communicators. Our Habitudes® courses do precisely that. If we can enhance what you’re doing on campus, please feel free to reach out to us. The world awaits these young leaders.

Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here

Two Skills Every Student Needs Before Graduation