Education has always been an important part of my professional and personal journey. Before I started working for UPS, I seriously thought about being a schoolteacher. When I look back at my career, that makes sense. It seems I’ve always been in roles where I was teaching employees. As a leader, you’re constantly teaching or at least serving as a role model. Employees watch how you behave, communicate and handle tough situations. They learn what to do and also what not to do.
When I was in high school, I came home in March of my senior year and informed my parents I was going to be attending college in August two hours away from home. My parents asked, “Why?” My mom didn’t graduate from high school, and my dad did but didn’t continue his studies after that. I was the first person on both sides of my family to go to college. I was fortunate enough to receive an athletic scholarship for all four years. I did not pay a dime, and my books were even paid for. Needless to say, my parents were thrilled.
Advanced education is not for everyone after high school, for so many reasons. I am the oldest of five children and only two of us graduated from college. All of us are successful in different ways.
When people get ready to leave high school, what road should they choose to travel in the next several years? Should the choice be to start working immediately, pick a trade to obtain specialized skills, or attend college? There are many circumstances that will influence the decision of an individual who is leaving high school. In this article, I’ll focus on higher education.
Does a college degree make you a better leader?
Not necessarily, but it does give you the ability to obtain experience to become a leader. I get asked the question all the time from newly-promoted management employees, some with a degree and some without: Does a college degree give you more opportunity for future advancement? Again, not necessarily. I flip the question and ask, “Who has children?” Most of the hands raise. Then I then ask, “Do want your kids to attend college?” The answer is a resounding yes.
Here are some reasons I argue for people to attend college education if possible:
You need to be a role model for your family, community and employees. It is more difficult to expect your children to attend college if you did not.
You obtain different experiences from college communities, cultures and campus life. Many of us know the same group of students, parents and neighborhoods for over a decade before we finish our high school education. Then you leave a comfortable environment and arrive somewhere completely different. This experience is just as important as the books you read and the degree you obtain. It provides personal and professional growth.
You learn higher-level habits of self-discipline. When attending college, you are the boss, gatekeeper and motivator in your own learning process. This is critical because it is so easy to procrastinate on a project or a deadline for a paper or a test. Operating in this environment takes strict discipline every day. This is where students miss out if they are not disciplined from day one.
You learn how to make clear and concise decisions. There are so many moving parts to campus life, and time is moving so quickly during this part of one’s life journey. Decisions made early on create a foundation that lasts long after the diploma is received. Yes, I know not everyone graduates, but I firmly believe that if a tragedy, financial hardship or any other unforeseen situation does not occur, the decision-making will help you cross the diploma line. You will have learned how to handle budgeting, class and degree selection, living arrangements and choices about who you study and socialize with. You will have had an opportunity to seek as much input as possible from family, professors and mentors.
As a leader at UPS, I often refer back to these four points: role model, experiences, self-discipline and decision-making. Through my 37-year career, I have relied heavily on these skills. I reflect back, and college was and is the foundation of my success. I will be retiring from UPS eventually, and I am committed to continuing my support of higher education by becoming an adjunct professor at a college or university.