Last night, John McCain and Barack Obama came together to praise the value of national service. Volunteerism is an important aspect of what makes a society civilized. Contributing to the community at large is not only good business or good government; it’s also the right thing to do.
But to what extent can bureaucratic forces foster national service without stifling it? McCain reminded the crowd that the federal government has its limits, and Obama shied away from the idea of compulsory “national civic service.”
Perhaps the best way to promote a culture of service is through business education. At Columbia Business School, we learn to appreciate not only the facts of the case in question but also the issues surrounding and clouding the situation. In Leadership, we are always taught that raw intelligence only gets you so far and that emotional intelligence is the true determinant of success. Learning how to insert the relevant resources to the relevant people at the relevant time is essential to a Columbia MBA. It is this knowledge that is required to organize or help movements that people care passionately about. This is the kind of service that all Americans would like to see at the heart of this country.
MBA students must also learn another element of service — that to whom much is given, much is expected. An MBA equips people with the skills and knowledge to be more socially conscious precisely because the degree is part of such an august tradition. It should escape no one’s attention that service is an essential component of leadership. In today’s society, there is no shortage of good causes for which our skills can be put to use. For every person there is a cause that rings strong and true. As McCain stated last night, “It’s not about the individual — it’s about the cause that they serve.” This discussion, which occurred on the seventh anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, reminded Americans of a greater common cause.Photo credit: Tina Gao, Columbia Spectator