Youth Leadership and Dave Ulrich-Orientation for University Students

[Presented at IoBM Orientation Session for Fall 2016 intake on Sep 3]
Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on leadership at Karachi Marriott by Dave Ulrich, who is considered as the father of modern Human Resource Management. Ulrich is a professor at the University of Michigan and a consultant to top companies of the world. With over 30+ books on HR and leadership, he was ranked #1 Management Educator and Guru by Business Week, and was selected as one of the 10 most innovative and creative leaders, and was named as the most influential thinker in HR of the decade by HR magazine.

Dave Ulrich ended this Karachi workshop on leadership by presenting the three questions on which he had based his commencement speech at the graduation ceremony of a US university some years ago.

I will start my orientation speech with those three questions which I think are so fundamental to youth leadership that instead of you grappling with these questions at your graduation, you should be asking them at the very start of your professional education. The three questions that Dave Ulrich briefly touched upon in about ten minutes were:

  1. Do I know what I want from this life? Do I know what I stand for? If we do not know what we want and what we stand for, then someone else will tell us what we should do, and often we do not like that. Often we run into choices where we have to decide on the basis of who we are and what we stand for. We are forced to make sacrifices and they are only worthwhile if they are based on our authentic self and our values. 
  2. Who do I serve? Some are blessed and we are among those who are blessed to be here sitting in this hall. Others who are not so blessed, need you. And we should not forget them in what we do during our life. 
  3. How do I build a world that is better than what I have experienced? How can I build an organization that is better than where I have worked? What is my value addition to this world?

This post is my reflection on the above three questions and in the context of the challenges of youth taking admission in a university in Pakistan. It highlights the issues related to their mindset and how to use the time at the university to come up with their own personal answers to these questions:

Do I Know what I Want from life? What is my Vision?

“Do I know what I want from my life” is a fundamental question that you should keep asking yourself again and again until you reach a stage where you get the same answer repeatedly and you feel contentment in that answer. If you do not know what you want, then someone else will definitely be telling you what you should do, and you may not like that. You may select a job which you are not comfortable with, which you have selected not because you wanted to, but because of extraneous compulsions. There you may be asked to do things that you do not like and this would keep you irritated all the time. This is typically what we see around us. People are like zombies doing work they do not like and do not want to do.

The next few years of your life at this institution are extremely important. You should read, explore, research, discuss, and evaluate. When the time for your graduation comes, you must be able to say what you want from your life: What is your long term vision. How do you see your long term future. What you want to be, and what you would be doing for the rest of your life.

Career and Scope

In Pakistan our career selections are arbitrary and often dictated by family, scope, distance, remuneration and reasons that do not motivate us and are not conducive for our long term growth. We don’t look at our passion and what stimulates us. We look at scope from the eyes of those who are not very knowledgeable about the choices that are in front of us. Our career choices often concentrate more on status and peer/social approval than the calling of our own heart.

We must not base our career decisions on the calculation of future scope of a particular field. Scope is elusive and transitory. What is popular today, may not be popular tomorrow. The world is changing at such a fast rate that it is difficult to predict the scope and future of any field. When I was your age there used to be only two fields that one could opt for; Engineering or Medicine. A student was considered a failure if one could not get into either. Then the field of great scope became IT, then came the attractiveness of business studies, then there was the band wagon of telecommunication, then there was the hype of media studies, and today the world is exploding in all directions.

What we can only predict is that there is always a room at the top! To reach to that top one needs to be working hard and gaining expertise ahead of the pack. Hence, we should only select a field that we are passionate about. Where work is not work but a hobby. Where after putting in a 14-hour workday you should be feeling as fresh as you were feeling when you started the day! 

Liberate yourself from the Prison of the name of your Degree Program

Name of your degree program is not your future or the field. Don’t get in the trap of restricting yourself to the discipline in which you are majoring. Don’t restrict yourself to anyone particular discipline, especially at the under graduate level. This is foolish. This is a university which is offering so many courses in so many disciplines. Do sample them, taste them, experiment with them. You are likely to hit gold in unexpected places and unfamiliar courses. Come out of the tunnel mentality. Explore new worlds and new opportunities
Recall what Steve Job mentioned about how he stumbled in to a course in “calligraphy” at his university after he has dropped out and then again dropped in for another few semesters. He never graduated. This course in calligraphy changed his life and direction of evolution of the IT field. Calligraphy led him to TrueType Fonts and from there to computer graphics and then to Apple and then to Macintosh and then to Next, and then to Lucas Films, and then to Pixar and then to Toy Story, and then to Disney and then back to Apple; iTunes, iPod, iPhone, iPad and the rest is history. His advice to the students is  Stay Hungry and Stay Foolish

This means explore each and every subject you encounter. Do it with relish. Your objective is to open your mind and it works best when it is opened, like a parachute. 

Inter connectivity of the world allows you to connect from any discipline to any other discipline

We equate career with a job in a particular field. I think it is possible to find your heart’s calling in whichever career discipline you find yourself in. You don’t always have to migrate to a new field to find your passion. There are now so many interdisciplinary connections that you can do whatever you want in whichever degree program you have opted for. The discipline that you have chosen now has links and bridges to many other discipline, some of them lead to the area of your interest. One can go from business to psychology. From sociology to business. From engineering to social networks to philosophy. From IT to history. From psychology to IT. From linguistics to management. From history  to economics. From economics to international politics to business strategy, and so on….

There are now links from any field to any other field. World is no longer a collection of silos where your selection of a particular discipline will imprison you in that discipline for life. It is a fully connected world. The world of Internet of Things has now links from every thing to every thing. People, organizations, products, homes, appliances, cars, computers, televisions, industries, cameras and every thing under the sun is and will be connected with every other thing. Anything, any device in any service or any business is connected at any time in any context, at any place to anywhere, through any path or network with anyone and anybody.

This is also true for internet of ideas. You have the opportunity to discover your heart’s calling from any field and any program. Just find the link and follow the link by literally clicking on it.

From Career to your Vision

Knowledge and exploration during your degree program will enable you to come up with a picture of your future. This is the vision that you should follow. Focus on the long term vision. Vision is not what you would be doing after you graduate. Vision is not what you will be doing 5 years from now. It is also not where you would be 10 years from now. Think of your vision as what you would be doing at least 30 years from now. Today is 2016. Focus your eyes 30 years hence on 2046.

Picture yourself what you would be doing in the world of 2046. The world is expected to have crossed the point of Singularity. That will be the world of flying cars, intelligent robots, space travel, time travel, mind travel, virtual worlds and virtual existence. Think of thriller movies like Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise, or Minority Report, or Transcendence, In Time or some other such science fiction movies that will alert you to the Brave New World1984, and Animal Farm. Picture what role you would be playing in the emerging world.

Picture yourself of what you would look like in 30 years. There are apps that can tell you what you would look like at 50. This picture should tell you your priority for your health, diet, and physical exercise.

  1. Vision of the future life would give you direction in your studies and work. 
  2. It would give you motivation, Grades do not give motivation. Vision of what you want to be does. 
  3. You will be able to prioritize. What comes first and what comes later. When to sleep and when to study. When to socialize and when to prioritize. Whom to meet and whom not to meet. 
  4. You will be able to decide about what sacrifices you are going to make. Can you sacrifice the warmth of your bed for the hard preparation. Can you sacrifice the comfort for a hard workout in gym. Can you sacrifice your time on facebook with directed exploration and research on the network. Can you come out of your comfort zone to achieve things in life that you value. 
  5. You can say no to things that you do not stand for. Ability to pay the costs for standing up to your ideals and your visions. There would be times when you have to choose between jobs, choose between family and work, choose between health and work, choose between the call of your inner conscience  with the call of money. 

Who do I serve? What is my Mission and Purpose of Life?

This question relates to your introspection and journey of self discovery which should eventually lead you to the discovery of your purpose and your mission. 

Discovering your Passion and Self Consciousness 

The biggest challenge is whether you know what is your heart’s calling, where is your passion beckoning, where your interest lies. You don’t have interest. You “develop” interest. You start getting interested in a field when you start understanding it. Achieving this level of understanding where a particular field starts revealing to you its mysteries, starts exciting you with its thrills, starts enamoring you with its enjoyments requires a significant amount of effort, exploration and adventure.  Never say you do not like something, unless you have spent some time with it. Often the depths of a field are much different from what the thing appears on surface. You have to make an effort to drill down to explore the mysteries and thrills.

Once you get into an auto-pilot mode of a field, you begin to learn about yourself and your relationship with the cosmos and the world around you. This knowledge and self consciousness will give you an inspiration about the world that you are going to create.

Karain gay ahle nazar taza bastiaa abaad


To enable the discovery of your source of passion, you require reflection. Reflection requires time that you spend with your own self. The observations that you have made, the information that you have learned through books, meeting friends, communicating on social networks needs time for assimilation. This assimilation requires some quiet time, alone. Take out some time every day to think, ponder, and connect all the pieces of information that you have accumulated.

Unfortunately our smart phones have robbed us of this time. We are now connected with the cell phones as we were connected with umbilical cords in our mother’s womb. We came in to this world crying because we had to leave that safety and security. Unfortunately we have relinquished our autonomy and independence and intentionally and willingly imprisoned ourselves in our cell phone world where we are disconnected with those around us; our family, friends, teachers and those who can potentially add value to our existence.

Try reclaiming your independence. Cut off the umbilical cord of the phone and start living. You must have an existence apart from your cell phone. Cherish it. You must try to remain with yourself alone for at least an hour every day. This time alone with yourself will lead you to:

  • Self discovery: Khud Shanasi
  • Self accountability: Khud Ihtisaabi
  • Self consciousness: Khudi
  • Self understanding: Khud Aagahi

All great people, inventors, creative artists continually strive to know themselves. Unless you know yourself and your connections with the external observations and their linkages, you can not create something original.

Think of People who are Not as Privileged

People sitting here in this gathering are the people who are blessed and are previliged. You will be studying at an institution where all the class rooms are air-conditioned, where there are generators and there is no load shedding, where there is security and safety. You have the connections and the support that is allowing you to study in an institution in which 80% of our population can not even visualize. Do not ignore the people who are not privileged. You must include consideration for these people in the definition of purpose of your life and your mission statement. These people must find a place in your mission statement which must have a consideration for serving them. The nobility of your mission is determined by whom you serve.

Social Leadership

In Pakistan and around the world we see people in deep suffering; there are people who can not get decent education, there are people who lack basic health care facilities, there are people who live in poverty and in environments where nothing positive is visible, there are people torn apart from violence; domestic violence, ethic violence, racial violence, wars, exploitation and subjugation. There are people who are suffering from environmental pollution and degradation of ecology. There are people who are losing their individuality, culture, their values due to the advent of globalization. All these people and their issues require social leadership.

How do I build a better place than what I have experienced? Which Skills do I  need to acquire? Optimism

The fundamental question is how to create a world that is better than what I have experienced and what I am experiencing.

Pakistan is a country where many people only speak about the impending doom and gloom. They continually focus on things that are becoming from bad to worse and include corruption, ignorance and nepotism which plagues our non performing institutions. The slide in governance is visible and can not be missed.

On one hand we have the option to join this community of pessimists who can only see the cup half empty. On the other hand, we have the option to join the community of optimists who can see the cup half filled. The optimists would guide us to look at role models who are serving as a beacon of light in this darkness; these are the people who have made life better for us. These are the people who left the world better off than what they saw when they came here.

We now have many role models; Edhi, Dr Adeeb Rizvi of SIUT, Dr Bari of Indus Hospital, Dr Amjad Saqib of Akhuwat Foundation, Ramzan Chippa, Saylani, IK of Shaukat Khanum Hospital, Tabba group and Hospital, and so on and so forth.

We need to decide how do we make the organization better than how we have experienced them initially. How do we become part of the change. How can we be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem!

Life Long Learners and Skills that You Need to Acquire

What you are going to study during the next few years is going to become  obsolete. Study is not about learning facts. Degree programs are about learning skills that will allow you learn on your own. Mission of IoBM is to make students life long learners. You become life long learners when you become keen observers, learn analytical skills, observation skills, problem solving skills, decision making skills, communication skills, creativity and thinking skills , change management skills and implementation skills.  Learning how to become life long learners is the key skill that you need to be acquiring.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are among the most important skills for leading change towards betterment. We find need to communicate when there is some thing inside us that is bubbling to come out. That is trying to gush out. But, how do you create the material that would want to come out. This is through observation. 

Reading Skills

I am worried that many of us are no longer readers. We have forgotten the joy and pleasure of reading. Reading expands our minds. It makes us concentrate on fine details which we typically ignore while observing and watching videos. Reading requires active involvement whereas watching  to a great extent is a passive activity ___  unless accompanied by intense reflection. 

Reading is a contagious disease. It can not be taught. It can only be caught. And it can only be caught from someone who already has the disease. 

From this semester, we have instituted a special Joy of Reading sessions for some of our first year students. The sessions would be led by Dr Adrian Husain who is a poet and a voratious reader, critic and philosopher. I hope these sessions would help you in appreciating the joy and pleasure of reading. 
There are some courses that we have designated as Reading Intensive courses. These course would have special allocation of grades for the reading. 

Writing Skills

Writing is also a pleasurable activity. I would encourage each one of you to make your own blogs. Make it a personal brand for yourself. Write about your observations and new things that you have learned. You will notice that it will sharpen your observation and would help you in reflection and connecting various elements. I discovered blogging some three years ago. It has been a wonderful experience for me. I would like this experience to be also a source of pleasure for you. 

Inspired from some example of universities abroad, we have designated certain courses as writing intensive. We would encourage students to develop their blogs and write the things that they are submitting as assignments on these blogs. 

Communication and Networking Skills

Armed with reading and writing, you are ready to embark on exciting networking skills and interpersonal skills. Make sure that when you leave the institute, you have at least 400 contacts in your smart phones. 100 contacts of seniors, 100 contacts of juniors and around 200 contacts of your peers. But, this is not just uploading of the contacts in the smart phones. No. These should be contacts of your friends. By friends I mean those people from whom you have eaten some lunch or dinner or you have taken them to some dinner or lunch.

This is an invaluable opportunity for you to expand your horizons. Unlike your schools, a university offers you an opportunity to meet students from different demographic backgrounds and different social strata and different ideologies. It is an important time to learn how to communicate with people of different backgrounds. This advice was given to me a long time back by Dr Matin A Khan during my orientation for MBA program in 1985

How to Create Impact through Education: 
  1. Curriculum’s Relevance to Social Impact: Why do our graduates want to leave the country?]
  2. How to Create Impact on Society: A Case Study of Experiential Learning Intervention in a Course on Social Advocacy
  3. Revamping Business Curriculum in Collaboration with Industry for Impact 
  4. Myth: We are backward because we lag in science & technology
  5. Myth: Impact Factor Measures Impact
  6. Why Project Based Learning? An Experiential Learning Case Study of Language Teaching
See Also:


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