The recent discussions about parents promoting academic achievement had me thinking about what it means to be successful in the workplace. In case you missed the Wall Street Journal’s article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, let me briefly summarize. Amy Chua writes about how she restricts her daughters’ activities (no sleepovers, play dates, school plays, TV or computer games) and requires that they get all As in school, be the number 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, and that they play only the violin or piano. Her point is that parents who raise successful children stress academics and tenacious practice.
However, what is the effect of promoting academic skills at the detriment of social skills? During play dates, sleep overs and other extracurricular activities, one learns important skills as well. Most workplaces require that you work in teams and to be successful you must be able to collaborate and work well with others. That means you need to be able to understand and deal effectively with a range of personalities. It starts on the play ground and continues during play dates and sleep overs.
Social skills are also needed outside of work. For example, in business school I was assigned to a team of fellow students during my first semester. There was no hierarchy but we had to work together to effectively learn and manage our considerable workload. Since no one person had positional authority, one needed persuasion, negotiation and hard work to insure that the team met deadlines, allocated tasks, and helped each other. One of my proudest moments was when a team member asked me to edit a team paper because he thought it could be improved upon. He valued my insight and recognized that I was an effective team player. Even though I had not been assigned to write this paper, I would help the team out.
Stressing academics will result in educated individuals. However, to effectively work well in an organization, you often need more than education and technical knowledge.