04/26/2013 09:16 am ET | Updated Jun 26, 2013

Decoding the Educational System to Generate Leadership Agility

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Jeff Carboneau, based in Washington State, was recently awarded "National Teacher of the Year." He was quoted as saying, "We are not a nation of failing schools. When I hear that I literally cringe. There is so much going right with education that we ignore."

He's right, but only partially. We're not ignoring it -- we're simultaneously observing the swift economic departure from viability. There are thousands of college graduates who are unprepared for the hyper-complexity of the 21st century. Some drift, many move back home to live with their parents. This is no picnic for anybody.

These young adults do not lack motivation or curiosity; they lack the leadership skills, resilience, and ability to deal with an entirely new set of demands in the workforce. The mindset from which most traditional schools (and even many alternative) curricula are drawn is simply insufficient. Innocently so; yet evidently so.

What capacities are lacking, exactly? A survey released in 2013 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities reported that executives care more about "a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate's] undergraduate major.'"

• Collaboration and leadership,
• Agility and adaptability,
• Initiative and entrepreneurialism

What underlies those capacities?
• A systems approach - the ability to see the whole system and all its moving parts
• Self awareness
• Emotional intelligence
• Passion for contextual learning
• Social intelligence
• Creativity

So, let's dissemble our approach to designing curriculum, and even the ways we engage our students. Why not leverage their existing skills in gaming? Why not design more interactive learning labs using a game framework to have them compete to solve complex problems and learn along the way, as Jane McGonigal suggested? Why not take class into the workplace, and bring real work to the learning process, through apprenticeships, or community service opportunities? Why not put art and innovation in the center of it all? Why not rethink the three R's, and consider the three P's? Purpose, Passion and People Skills.

We need to engage young people to gain much greater leadership agility, the abilities to lead organizational change, improving team performance, and engage in pivotal conversations. Without the skills to self-lead, set direction, and resolve conflicts effectively, they won't be equipped to participate effectively and evolve the current scenario. This doesn't bode well -- for them, for us 'elders,' or for the planet.

The cost of not transforming our education system is far too high. The self-esteem and passion of a generation could be squandered, while the economics of our current predicament speak for themselves.