An NYU Business School Professor might have taught the next generation of business students something vital about “emotional intelligence” and behavioral science… by ignoring it to his peril.
For context, you should know the background: An NYU student showed up late to a class in Feburary (seems he was shopping his options), and was kicked out of the class by a professor. The professor, who would appeared to be a self-tortured but successful businessman, is described by DeadSpin as having a reputation for being a “self important jackass” and “kind of a dick.”
The student wrote quite a diplomatic e-mail to explain the situation (see the e-mail verbatim) and the professor wrote back:
“I do not know you, will not know you and have no real affinity or animosity for you. You are an anonymous student who is now regretting the send button on his laptop…
get your shit together.” (Those last four words have become a very odd and dismal motto at NYU, and t-shirts are available). Perhaps this meme will travel beyond NYU. I tend to prefer mottos that are more aspirational than corrective. “Just do it” might inspire more if it was changed to “just be” (although many might construe that as inaction).
This e-mail thread, which is now public domain, struck a chord with me — oh, and more than a dozen million people who read the e-mails in a DeadSpin article titled, “NYU Business School Professor Has Mastered the Art of eMail Flaming.”
Meet Scott Galloway, businessman (see video description for more) and clinical associate professor at the NYU Stern School of Business. Most of us may never know more about Galloway than a legacy he left with one e-mail, but it’s enough to teach us some lessons on human behavior and “social intelligence.” Galloway reminded me of Professor Lawler at Babson, who might have been switched at birth with the Stern Professor of Stern. Like Galloway, Lawler was known for arrogant “course corrections” of his students, and preparing them for a world of business that would accept nothing less than his own unrealistic expectations for himself and students.
It was enough to make students cry, and turn some away from business entirely (I’m happy to report, Lawler, that I’ve gotten away with far more than you ever suggested possible). Lawler seemed never much to care for me, and perhaps that’s true of 5-10 percent of the executives with whom I’ve worked. But the same behavior that annoyed him is what has allowed me to contribute to employers and clients. Diversity in thought and behavior, more than “having shit together,” is more important. Show me a workforce of ruthlessly accountable and socially irritating “bottom-line men” and I’ll show you on without partners or customers.
It would appear we’re seeing a humbled Galloway, but we can learn more from his negative example than his somewhat remedial observations on viral. He contends that this episode went viral because a) it wasn’t vetted by legal, b) it was controversial, and c) it was authentic. Really? I think you’re over analyzing a fairly simply fact: everyone loves the underdog.
Galloway Goliath vs. Student David.
If you’re a teenager, college student or business school student, please remember something beyond a) this professor is a douche, and b) joining David’s can be fun when Goliath is a jerk. Remember two things: First, as long as there are teachers there will always be Galloways and Lawlers. We need not worry about what motivates them, or why they feel compelled to humiliate and frighten students (give them the benefit of doubt and assume they want nothing more than to “tough up” an entitlement generation). Second, and more importantly, the business world is not quite what they represent. Sure there are Galloways and Lawlers in the business world too, but guess what? If they’re despised by students, they probably have the same rap among their colleagues. They may be successful or not, but they’re not happy.
Do yourself a favorite and pay more attention to that behavioral class that feels like a joke. You know — the one you could pass without ever attending a class, and feels like “everything you already know about business psychology but are afraid to bore yourself with.” (Hey, Gallagher, I just ended a sentence with a preposition, so suck it). Students and professors: print this blog post and bring it to class for extra credit. Hell it’s written by a former product director, marketing consultant and one of YouTube’s most popular “comedians.”
My friends, those “soft” classes are more important than anything you’ll learn in finance, stats, or accounting (don’t think I didn’t notice my classmates crying during Lawler’s tests). It seems “emotional intelligence” and persistence trumps any raw skills or talent. People succeed or fail based more on their ability to relate to others in a business, and less for their punctuality and analysis. I don’t expect you to pay any more attention to the soft stuff than you area already, because we both know you can get your B and snatch a degree by coasting. But you can surely toss most of your books when you graduate, except you’d better save your behavioral ones.
Who knows. They might save you from writing a really embarrassing e-mail that goes viral or gives your career a deadly virus.