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Jo-Ellen Pozner: Aligning your Values with Your Life and Work

Jo-Ellen Pozner is an assistant professor of management at Santa Clara’s Leavey School of Business. She has an impressive set of degrees: a PhD in Management and Organizations from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University; an MBA from New York University; a Masters in Economics from Johns Hopkins University; and a BSFS in International Economics from Georgetown University. Her research topics include organizational ethics and misconduct, social movements in business, and leadership.


In this conversation, we discuss how working in Russia gave Dr. Pozner a new perspective on following the rules, how businesses can start social movements, and how students can gain a new perspective on their career.    

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Interview Highlights

Listen at 8:40: What can we learn from businesses about social movements?


Gavin Cosgrave: How can an individual make a social impact through their work?


Jo-Ellen Pozner: If you are really interested in moving the needle on social change, it behooves you to think carefully about the match between your own values and the values of the companies and organizations we interact with. My philosophy is that most people want to make good choices, and most people like to think about themselves as good, but most people don’t think about whether they’re making good choices on a daily basis. So for me, it’s about understanding your own values, and trying to bring your consumption, employment and interaction choices in line with those values. That’s what being a good person means: you actively seek alignment between your values and the way you live.


GC: Can leadership be taught in a classroom?


JEP: My real philosophy is that you should study what you’re interested in, because this is the last chance you’ll have to do that for a pretty long time. You’re going to be set on a track you’re your first job that limit you, so exploring is really important.


Having said that, if you’re a business major in particular, you really should be studying leadership and management because it turns out that anybody can study accounting from a textbook or online or working for an accounting firm. Technical skills are relatively easy to acquire. That’s not to say they aren’t valuable, they absolutely are.


When you get out there, you realize technical skills only get you so far. What really sets you apart are interpersonal skills that we teach in management classes. Leadership, negotiation, organizational behavior, strategy… these are sets of behaviors and skills that you will acquire if you’re attentive over the course of your career. But you can study them now and get a leg up.


There’s a scholar Ron Burt who likes to say that there are actors and scenery in life. I would rather that all our students be actors, that you have the capacity to take charge of your situation and actively manage the world around you. Being scenery means that other factors are acting on you and you don’t have much agency.


GC: What advice do you have for students in choosing a career or company to work for?


JEP: When you’re finishing school at any level, you’re worried about getting a job, paying back your loans and making sure you have enough money to pay off loans. And clearly prestige plays a role in the decision. But, I want to come back to the idea that we need to understand our own values. If we’re not thinking about our employment through the lens of our values, it’s easy to have a mismatch or a company with a way of thinking we’re not okay with.


What do I mean by that? College is probably your most idealistic time in life. This is where you start to become who you really are. The values that drive you in college are important not just now, but in the future. Take a couple of minutes, and jot down the top 3-5 things that are really important. I don’t think most people do that.


You will the most fulfilled in your career if you find an organization that shares similar values. That organizational culture determines how you make decisions, how you interact with clients, customers, coworkers, community, and the environment.

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