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Abhijit BhaduriGuest Author

What they do not tell you about class toppers

By Abhijit Bhadrui

If you were the top student of your class, does it mean that you will land up being the CEO? To answer this question, Karen Arnold, a researcher at Boston College, followed 81 high school toppers and those who were top of the class after they finished academics to track their progress. Are they doing well? Are they successful?

For one, that depends on what you define as success.

Here is what the research showed. 90 per cent of toppers are now in professional careers with 40 per cent in the highest tier jobs. But none of them has changed the world, if that is what you want to know. Arnold says, “Even though most are strong occupational achievers, the great majority of former high school valedictorians do not appear headed for the very top of adult achievement arenas.” In short, most toppers seem to have walked along the road that was well-travelled. They have not cleared the jungle and crafted a fresh path.

Should we discourage our kids from giving their best in school and college? Should we tell them that their doing well in school and college is a sure sign that they will not be changing the world once they enter the world of work?

Should employers stop looking at grades as a predictor of success at work? What does it mean when someone says that they had spotless academic grades?

Grades and intelligence

Most schools tend to reward students who follow instructions. When asked to colour a box, the students who listen to the instructions and ensure that all crayon markers are inside the box. The students who do that are displaying self-discipline, conscientiousness, and the ability to comply with rules. The teacher’s favourites are students who do what the teacher tells them to do without questioning.

Academic grades are only loosely correlated with intelligence. Standardised tests are a better measure of IQ (though some would question that too). Academic achievements are often the result of individual effort or intelligence or ability to follow instructions.

If the job needs someone to work on their own (scientists running experiments in their labs by themselves, for instance), then without doubt academic grades will be correlated with success in that job. In a job where success is not dependent on influencing and interacting with others, toppers will do well. Analysts or investment bankers or (some) academicians often can excel by just working alone. Those are jobs where the school or college topper will rise to the top. They excel as individual contributors.

If the job involves working in a team, selling an idea, persuading people to adopt a point of view, then social skills matter.

Read On….

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About Author

Abhijit Bhaduri works as the Chief Learning Officer for the Wipro group. He lives in Bangalore, India. Prior to this he led HR teams at Microsoft, PepsiCo, Colgate and Tata Steel and worked in India, SE Asia and US.

He is on the Advisory Board of the prestigious program for Chief Learning Officers that is run by the Univ of Pennsylvania.

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