Why Elite Colleges Are Creating More Followers Than Leaders These Days

By Bradley Tusk  |  August 11, 2016

You worked your whole life for this. Took every honors and advanced placement class possible. Studied like crazy for the SATs. Aced them. Participated in every after school activity, every extra-curricular, every club. Spent your summers volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Greenpeace. And it worked. You got into Harvard. Your parents were so proud.

Then it started all over again. Everyone there is really smart. They’re special. You’re special too. They keep telling you that. And you put the work in again. Tough courses. Good grades - very good grades in fact. Outstanding summer internships - Morgan Stanley, McKinsey, the district office of your U.S. Senator.

It came time to get a job. The school had clear opinions on where you should go. A big investment bank. Management consulting. Law school. You didn’t really want to do any of those things. But the school kept pushing. Because they knew.

Your entire life has been marked by hitting milestone after milestone, reaching goal after goal. It’s how you see yourself - you’re a high achiever. It determines your self worth. You need validation, praise, constant progress.

But most of the real world doesn’t work that way. There aren’t endless rungs on the ladder to climb in most jobs, in most businesses. Most employers don’t know how to manipulate your need for constant forward motion. And that’s why they kept pressing you to go work at Goldman Sachs.

Only a handful of major companies can both attract elite students and keep pushing all of the right buttons to keep them motivated. Sure, major corporations like Verizon may have lots of layers of bureaucracy and opportunities for advancement, but it’s not exciting to say you work for the phone company.

So you need an employer perceived as elite who can pit lots of young high achievers against each other, have lots of job titles to award to those who succeed and survive, and can keep pushing the right buttons to keep the team running harder and harder.

But is this what elite colleges should be doing? Preparing their students to be emotionally manipulated by their employer at every turn? Turning out young people, class after class, who base their self worth on external achievement and validation?

Sure, they’ll earn good money. Their parents can brag that their daughter works at McKinsey or JP Morgan. But to what end?

Most businesses can’t accommodate the emotional needs of high achieving millennials from elite schools. And that deprives those students of multiple great career opportunities and deprives those businesses of potentially great employees.

It’s a disservice to both, and a failure by our elite schools to recognize and do something about it.

The real world works a little differently Without a practical education in how the real world works, it’s hard to truly succeed.

Hard work and book smarts are important, but so is hustle, character, common sense, and street smarts. Only preparing students to succeed in a few sectors like investment banking and management consulting isn’t really preparing them at all.

Between my four companies (a political consulting firm, a venture capital fund, a digital archive business and a casino management firm), we employ a lot of smart people. But we’re not that hierarchical, we don’t want to spend a lot of time meeting with people about their career arc, and we’re not interested in manipulating our employees or pitting them against each other.

Which makes us a bad fit for Millennials from elite schools (or, for that matter, adults from elite employers who went there straight from elite schools). There are exceptions (we have one), but when we’re talking about exceptions from the norm, you know there’s a problem.

Maybe no one from Harvard or Yale or Penn should want to work for us anyway. But it’s sad that the system is structured so they pretty much can’t, and that we can’t benefit from their talent. It shouldn’t be like this. A system designed only to perpetuate itself is a bad system.

Elite schools owe their students better than this.

The above appeared on Inc.com as a political op-ed and social commentary.