The 4.0 Row

They were a quartet and always sat in the front row of each class.  They called themselves the 4.00 row.  As they explained:  “Any two of our GPAs would add up to a 4.00.”  GPAs are the standard measure in our educational system.  They are what counts.  But are they what matters?

The quartet are nearing the end of their careers.  And what careers they have been.  In fact, their combined careers have been much more impressive than their peers.  Why is that?  What does the GPA miss as a predictor of success?  To answer that question, you need to know something more about the quartet.

Ben was older than his classmates and had much more practical and life experience than his peers when he started his career.  Sandy was the only African American female in the entire college.  Her spirit and human touch made her a favorite among her classmates.  Jake had very limited financial support, so he was working 30 hours/week and his study time was limited.  His energy level was exceptional, as were his time management skills.  George struggled with dyslexia.  Tests were always a challenge, but he was more creative than any of his classmates.

I have taught over 150 students who have reached senior executive status in their careers.  At least one-third of them had GPAs that would scare off most employers today.  Very few of the 150 senior executives had a GPA that would qualify them for the highest graduation honors.

I tell students that no one will ever ask about your GPA after your first job, except maybe your children.  What matters in a career is not what counts in a GPA.  Practical abilities, personal character, resilience, creativity, and relationships with others are far more important than the ability to do well on tests.

I’m often asked to help employers evaluate job candidates after they have finished interviews.  I’m amazed to see how often a student’s GPA is used to disqualify them.  I’ll advocate for students who I think will be a great hire but don’t meet the criteria.  Rarely do I succeed because a certain GPA is a corporate mandate.  Employers would rather use a number to evaluate a job candidate than the opinion of someone who knows that candidate’s real abilities and potential.

I’m a fan of leadership biographies.  It’s fascinating to read about the academic struggles that so many of our great leaders have had.  I wonder whether they would survive in our current grade conscious educational world that places such emphasis on a number and so little emphasis on what matters.

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“But there are advantages to being elected President.  The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret.” – Ronald Reagan

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