Leadership

Business Students Don't Get Love. Nor Do They Need It -- Yet.

Business Students Don't Get Love. Nor Do They Need It -- Yet.
Image credit: Jesus Solana | Flickr
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Pity the poor business student, suffering the hard sadness of being unloved.

Gallup today released a study that said business students, of all majors, get the least amount of "emotional support" from professors and mentors. In fact, just 9 percent of students studying business claim they received such support, which is half the rate of kids who took up the arts and humanities.

The implication, Gallup says, is big for American businesses, since it has found a lack of emotional support correlating with low workplace engagement. In fact, Gallup has data to suggest business majors are less engaged at work than others. "This implies that the comparatively low degree of emotional support business undergraduates appear to receive in school has lasting consequences, as Gallup has established that there are differences in well-being and employee engagement among alumni who have had these experiences."

Now, before we start a hashtag campaign to throw more love in the direction of our future business leaders -- might I suggest #HugAnMBA? -- we need to step back. For one thing, business students may not want that support, even if others say they need it. And, most importantly, that lack of support leads to a great opportunity to differentiate themselves later in their careers.

First, let's look at need. Business studies, by their nature, lack emotion. People looking for a connection with the written word study poetry, not the application of promissory estoppel in contracts. It is a cold field that, frankly, attracts a different breed of student, eager for lots of statistics, laws, math and such. Emotion is not the stock and trade. It wasn't until I was out of university myself that I realized I could have done a lot better in tender settings mumbling the scribblings of Tintern Abbey to my intended. Instead, I was whispering the sweet nothings of Milton Friedman. 

Related: College Is Worth the Price. Just Not This Price.

Yes, there may be varying degrees of emotional need and availability for business students. You might get more of a cuddle from a marketing major than an accounting student, but that's all by the way. Music majors will spend months writing the perfect song to play on Valentine's Day for their love. Business majors pray the bookstore still had cards left on the morning of Feb. 15, at a markdown, naturally.

Think I'm stereotyping? For this, I plead guilty, but Gallup has to be at least an unindicted co-conspirator here. Polling, after all, is the arithmetic of stereotyping. "Women like cats more than men," and all that rubbish. Looking at business students, as if it's some homogenous group, is a stereotype. (Interestingly, Gallup didn't break out its results by gender in this study, so we don't know if a woman who studies management gets less emotional support than a man who is pre-med. That stereotyping will have to wait another day.)

So, in truth, business majors might report getting less emotional support, but it's unlikey they're crying their eyes out lamenting in their diaries about it. They might, in fact, not get it because they don't want it.

Here, though, Gallup might be on to something. Business students may not want emotional support, but they certainly need it. Why? Well, the higher you rise as a business leader, the more of that support you need.

Many tend to look at CEOs as titans. This is particularly true of entrepreneurs, who are always celebrated for their single-mindedness, their drive, their innovation and their risk-taking. Viewed on the Discovery Channel, we might think entrepreneurs are solitary animals on the startup level, growing to be the Alpha of a pack when their companies grow in size and scale.

But that is a misreading of what makes true business leaders great. In fact, the best CEOs and executives have teams of people around them, giving them advice, and, yes, emotional support. Look at mentorship. A study from the American Society for Training and Development found that 75 percent of executives say their success came in part to having a mentor. Corporations realize this, too: That same ASTD study noted 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have some type of mentoring program for employees.

Related: The World Needs More of Richard Branson's 'Hubris'

Also look at the rise of executive coaching. About half of American CEOs say they have hired and used an executive coach, and more lower-level employees are hiring coaches to help them get ahead.

What is mentoring and coaching? Support. More than just advice, real leaders get a sounding board off which to discuss ideas, challenges and opportunities. At its best, mentoring and coaching allow business leaders to find their internal compasses, pulling out the right decisions which already reside within them. The best leaders never really walk alone.

And therein lies the opportunity for the best business students. Yes, they may neither seek nor find emotional support on campus, but they certainly should the minute they enter the workforce. The lack of it at college won't hold them back if they take advantage of what's available from their companies once they sign that offer letter. Engagement should follow. Sure, it seems hard to be enthusiastic selling insurance, but finding mentors who have made it their life, embraced it and accumulated a stack of chips from doing it, might change an employee's perspective.

And that change in perspective might mean a change in career, or even a move toward true entrepreneurship. It's no secret that a lack of job satisfaction is a key reason why people start their own businesses. Here, mentorship is vital, but the insight of someone in the workforce is far more valuable than the love from a professor of accounting.

So, to the students, don't weep over love lost on campus. But don't forget that ongoing support is what will differentiate you in the future.

You might not seek emotional support now, but you need to learn to love it later.

Related: Tim Cook Is Gay. But As Apple's CEO, That Isn't His Biggest Revelation.