Making Leadership Development Part of the College Degree at Rice University

By Marshall Goldsmith
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with my wonderful friend and #1 University Coach, General Tom Kolditz to discuss his university-wide approach to leadership development. Tom is the founding Director of the Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University–the most comprehensive, evidence-based, university-wide leader development program in the world.

The Doerr Institute was recognized in 2019 as the top university leader development program by the Association of Leadership Educators. Prior to Rice, Tom taught as a Professor in the Practice of Leadership and Management and Director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale School of Management. I hope you enjoy our interview!

Marshall: General Tom Kolditz, I love working with you. I’ve known you for many years. You did a spectacular job leading leadership development at West Point. Now, what you are doing is mind blowing to me in terms of how good it is. You’re starting from the ground up.

How did you do this? You have a huge number of students signed up for the program, who are excited, and who are making a positive difference. Universities are not always noted for being willing to change. How’d you do this?

Tom: Thank you, Marshall. The first thing that we did was we listened. We did 185 interviews here at Rice, so we would get the culture right.

Once we got the culture right, we had to have a plan that was excellent enough that it would be accepted at a top 20 university. That means we had to use professional people. We had to use evidence-based techniques and possibly most importantly, we had to measure our outcomes so that we knew we were developing leaders.

Marshall: I love the fact that you used measurement. As you know, in my coaching process, I measure everything. For instance, if I’m a corporate person looking to hire somebody and you tell me you have documented evidence about leadership development, being better leaders, and coaching, I’d say that sounds fantastic.

Tom: That’s right. It’s a terrific opportunity for students and corporations to get developing young leaders instead of people who are starting at the ground floor. Much of our research shows that students who don’t work on their development as leaders are no better when they graduate than the day they walked in the door. And, no company wants to hire a college graduate with high school level leadership skills.

Marshall: No, let’s face it, anybody that gets into any top 20 college today, and to be honest, it’s highly possible that neither you nor I would get admitted to one of these places today, but not everyone gets in. And, these are smart, hardworking, technically competent people, who haven’t been trained in interpersonal skills.

Tom: No, they haven’t. And these skills are necessary to leverage the degrees that they have in order to do well with them. This was the intent behind the donation from Ann and John Doerr who started the Doerr Institute. Their intention was to make sure that students were going to leave the university with not just a great education, but with the ability to apply their education.

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Marshall: You know, if you had to look at not just Rice, but the larger university space that you’re helping. I love what you’re doing because you’re not just there saying, we’re trying to help. You’re doing it. The impact you’re making at Rice with the Institute will go beyond our lifetimes and greatly impact the future. So, thank you so much. I’m honored to know you.
Tom: Thank you very much, Marshall!

For more on Tom visit:

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