You want to enroll as a liberal arts major, but people around you are absolutely sure you are wasting your time. And, unfortunately, they are not shy about telling you so.
That’s not an enjoyable scenario, but liberal arts lovers should take heart – they are not alone. People have slung derogatory words at the liberal arts major for a very, very long time. It turns out, however, that they were all very, very wrong.
Those who choose a liberal arts program aren’t wasting their time. Not only are they getting a well-rounded education, but they also may find themselves one day leading teams and even whole organizations.
A recent study found that graduates from humanities programs equaled MBA graduates once they entered the workforce in areas such as entrepreneurship and influence. What’s more, they outperformed MBA graduates in “compelling communication,” “driving for results” and “inspiring excellence.”
Doesn’t sound very worthless, does it?
The larger question for critical-thinking liberal arts majors is: why? Here some reasons that a liberal arts education produces graduates who are excellent candidates for leadership.
Most who pursue a liberal arts major are good writers. That’s a skill that serves them well no matter what line of business they go into as their career unfolds. Despite the popular opinion that we now live in a culture that values watching TV, movies and playing video games more than reading and writing, every business needs people who can write clearly and concisely, often about complex issues.
Most humanities programs also have debate and public speaking components, another skill area that makes for better leaders.
Getting the best out of employees is a hallmark of great leaders, and graduates with a liberal arts major tend to excel in this area. These so-called “soft skills” - what most have called “people skills” in the past - integrate areas such as communications, empathy, an ability to listen and emotional intelligence. All these areas are emphasized in liberal arts programs.
As pointed out by author Randall Stross - a liberal arts graduate who is now a professor of business - too many people (particularly politicians) assess the workforce by skills needed. The issue there is that proficiency is one skill area will not help when the need for that skill evaporates.
However, critical thinking is a skill that translates across all industries and lines of work. The ability to read and react to different situations, types of people and challenges lies beyond technical skills, financial acumen and business savvy.
While liberal arts graduates may lack the technical skills needed for a particular job, they excel at learning fast and then applying creative thinking to doing their jobs better. Stross argues that it's much better for employers to hire someone with all the skills of a liberal arts major and then teach them the skills of a specific job rather than hiring someone to “hit the ground running” on Day 1.
Employees wiih a liberal arts major will make “more creative, or more clearly explained, contributions on day 180” than their counterparts, he said. Eventually, that can lead to positions higher on the organizational chart.
Those are some of the reasons liberal arts graduates make good leaders. That’s all good news for those who want to study liberal arts but have someone near and dear trying to talk them out of it. Pursuing a liberal arts major doesn’t close doors, it opens them.