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The Local Job Market Is Chaotic Right Now. A Philly Business Insider Explains How to Take Advantage

It’s a good time to be forward thinking. The current job market, while complex, offers a lot of promise for those willing to take a leap, and post-Great Resignation, employers understand the value of retaining employees and talent to a greater degree than ever before. 

Those two factors make it an ideal moment for those seeking to advance in their careers, whether at their current organization or elsewhere. But figuring out what’s needed to go from team member to team leader, what moves you need to make and what qualities you need to display, can at times feel like trying to build a business without a business plan. 

But that’s why you go to an outside consultant. The M.S. in Business and Organizational Leadership program at Neumann University School of Business has trained some of Philadelphia’s most inspiring leaders, from finance to government to health care. We spoke to their program director, Dr. Sam Lemon, on how the program leads their students to success, so you can set out on the next bold stretch of your career path.

Learn a Little Bit of Everything

At Neumann’s leadership program, Lemon gives his students a liberal-arts inspired education that equips them with a large breadth of knowledge in all the subjects they’ll need to know as a leader in their organization. Students study financial decision making, public policy’s interaction with business, and a social and ethical approach to diversity and inclusivity. 

But Lemon points out that education is designed to be utilized in a business environment, rather than letting students get lost in the theoretical weeds. When trying to seek a leadership position, start by learning enough subject matter (and about long term corporate goals) to communicate effectively with other departments that you would be working with in a new position.

“You are likely going to have an accountant and a lawyer, whether on staff or not, that will do a better job at crunching the hard numbers or navigating legal policies. But you have to be able to understand the critical concepts and make decisions that involve a large number of strategies and disciplines,” Lemon says.

Tap into Your Team’s Experience

Many of Lemon’s students have acquired a wide breadth of invaluable work experience. Lemon’s advice to them is, instead of replacing that knowledge with pure static theory, figure out how to take what you and those around you know and leverage it as an advantage. 

“I would say the beauty and attractiveness of the program is the broad range of students that we get,” Lemon says. “We’ll see people in law enforcement, nursing, tech and finance. One of my law enforcement students the other night told me that one of the people from the nursing program gave him insight into how to tackle a problem at work from a nursing perspective. And he would’ve never thought of it that way.”

Lemon’s focus is to take that critical experience and funnel it through the applications of management, by having students study subjects like group leadership, fiscal planning, social and ethical responsibility, and quantitative and qualitative thinking. So, when your team is tackling a problem, encourage diverse perspectives, and see how previous instances of problem-solving can be applied in a professional context.

Do Your Research

For many business leaders, it’s not always about inventing something from the ground up (Steve Jobs famously made the already-extant tablet computer a hit by refining it into the IPad). Treating research as a fundamental skill, to find ideas that can be improved upon, or unmet needs that can be fulfilled, is one of the most important mindsets that Lemon stresses to his students.

“Sometimes it’s not about coming up with a brand new idea,” Lemon says. “It’s really about building a better mousetrap–looking at what people have done and then improving upon that.”

Lemon’s approach to the program is to give his students an intensive, academically rigorous approach to research, so that students graduate with the ability to learn like a scholar. If you’re trying to tackle a problem, don’t just sit there with pen and paper in hand, or assign some brainstorming to a subordinate–get Googling.

Master Communication

Another scholarly skill that Lemon puts a premium on is writing ability. Communication is one of a leader’s primary responsibilities, and even in an age of Zoom calls, writing is still the quickest and most effective way to get your point across. 

“You can have the greatest ideas in the world, but if you can’t express them verbally, they’re likely not going to accomplish much,” Lemon says.

Lemon teaches his students to think about their audience in each act of communication. What’s the “deliverable” or end purpose of what you’re proposing? Who is going to benefit? How are you going to analyze and share results? 

It doesn’t stop at internal communications however. A writer who has taken the time to learn a scholarly approach to article-writing can accelerate their career through publication, either in journals in their given field or in popular media. Either way, it looks great on a resume and can increase that author’s prominence as a thought leader, something that employers value.

Make Your Value Clear

Beyond publishing, pursuing independent research, projects, or education in your free time that benefits your business in unexpected ways can accelerate your growth substantially. Lemon notes that many of his students are looking for advancement within their current company when attending his program, and often tell him that they received one or more promotions during their time there. One key aspect to this, aside from gaining the academic credentials to advance, is the fact that they work with Lemon on a capstone research project as part of their graduate degree, and Lemon encourages them to make this project relevant to their business.

“It provides a great return on investment because, instead of having to hire a new employee to expand the business, they already have an experienced and talented employee in-house who’s demonstrated that they can increase business,” Lemon says.

He points to a student of his who worked at Wawa, who partnered with a student who worked at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Their research-based business plan helped to support the creation of a human breast milk bank at CHOP. Other students of Lemon’s worked at investment company Vanguard, and found a way to get young people to invest in their financial future earlier. 

“If you can make a real world impact, you can create your own value to the company,” Lemon says.

Make Work Personal

The most important key to advancement might simply be having passion for your work. But becoming and staying passionate about what you do day in and day out isn’t always easy.  

One of Lemon’s most critical lessons for his students is how to do just that. His lessons revolve around making it personal. That can start with sharing what you’re learning and doing with family and friends, and using the insights you gain from your research to help them overcome their own personal or professional problems.

This applies to how you should approach projects as well. For capstone projects, Lemon has students look for topics that benefit their community and themselves. One student, for example, was a post office employee, whose son was killed as a bystander in a drive-by shooting in Chester. She enrolled in the program shortly after.

“Using that personal grief, she created two things,” Lemon says. “She created a scholarship program, in memory of her son. And she also created a grief camp for children who have lost family members to gun violence. It’s still running today, and it’s very successful.” 

When following that personal drive, it might take you to interesting, unexpected places, whether opening your own business or simply growing as a person. And even when growing as a leader does not equate to your expected career path, it’s worth it, Lemon says.

“It’s not so much that education makes you a better person. But it can make you more knowledgeable, wiser, inspired, and more sympathetic to the experiences of others,” Lemon says. “It makes you more able to connect with others, and that’s really what’s going to make all of our lives better. Educated people coming together, trying to find solutions to common problems.”