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A Consideration of Leadership
The AYA’s fall Assembly provided an in-depth examination of the University’s role in fostering the future

From its founding in 1701, Yale has been an incubator of leaders, but what started out as a training ground for clergymen and government officials has expanded over the years to include the preparation of men and women for leadership roles in all walks of life. At the AYA’s fall Assembly, more than 450 delegates and their guests, along with University administrators and faculty, came together from October 28 to 30 to consider Yale’s dual roles as academic leader and nurturer of the leaders of the future.

The event, chaired by Phil Boyle '71, featured a series of panel discussions, workshops, and information sessions, as well as a University update by President Levin and a keynote address by John E. Pepper Jr. '60, former chairman of the board and CEO of Proctor and Gamble. “We’re here to consider who we are, what we have been, what we’ve applied, and where we’re going,” said Boyle in his opening remarks in which he shared a delegate’s attempt to define the Assembly’s topic. “Leadership is the ability to understand the past, anticipate the future, and provide a bridge between the two.”

In a plenary session that followed Boyle’s introduction, organizational psychologist Chris McCusker, historian Paul Kennedy, and legal scholar Stephen Carter offered their perspectives on the definition. McCusker, an associate professor at the School of Management, explained that he has been interviewing many of the business leaders who have come to SOM as speakers—everyone from Sir John Browne, head of British Petroleum, to advertising and marketing executive Shelley Lazarus, who chairs Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. But though they had different styles and directed very different enterprises, all shared four characteristics that McCusker dubbed “virtues”: wisdom, prudence, benevolence, and veracity.

Inculcating these qualities and creating what one delegate termed “people of value rather than simply a people of success” was a challenge, the panelists agreed, but it was doable. Kennedy, along with several of his colleagues, has in the works a new course called “Studies on Grand Strategy” that will have students examining the styles and results of leaders from Thucydides to Henry Kissinger. “Thinking critically, asking the right questions, examining the evidence, separating the short term from the long term, seeing the broader picture—these are leadership qualities we already teach,” noted Kennedy. Professors also instruct by example. “Young people need to see adults living their values,” said Carter. “Leaders no longer call on us to make sacrifices.”

Victor Vroom, the John G. Searle Professor of Organization and Management at the School of Management, is one of the world’s experts in the analysis of how leaders make decisions. To explore how leadership works in practice, assembly delegates were asked to ponder five case studies developed by Vroom for his SOM students. In one thorny situation, the leader had to make a decision about the allocation of high-status executive parking spaces; in another, the captain of a Coast Guard cutter had to decide whether to undertake a dangerous search and rescue mission in bad weather.

The discussion generated by the case studies continued over dinner, the highlight of which was a speech by John Pepper, who talked about how a Yale education enhanced its graduates’ abilities to envision the future and aim high. The following morning, at a panel discussion chaired by Gustave Speth '64, ’69JD, the new dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, four distinguished alumni speakers examined both how being at Yale had helped them become leaders and how the University could continue this tradition. The panelists were Linda Mason '80MBA, a member of the Yale Corporation and the founder and chair of Bright Horizons Family Solutions; Fred Krupp '75, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund; Howard Dean '71, the governor of Vermont, and Richard Swett '79, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark.

Both Mason and Krupp cited the commitment to public service that pervades Yale as being fundamental to their development as leaders, and Ambassador Swett noted that this culture has evolved by design rather than by accident. “The University has always been committed to choosing people with leadership qualities, and there’s an expectation that they’ll become leaders in whatever field they choose,” said Swett. “The most important thing that Yale can do is to set the bar high right from the beginning.”

Governor Dean added another element: The University must continue its commitment to diversity. “We have to learn what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes,” said Dean, explaining that learning to live in a residential college community with a variety of different people helped him develop what he calls a “critical” leadership skill: the ability to listen. “We don’t have to love everybody, but the only hope for the world and for Yale is that we learn to listen to one another.”

How students and alumni were faring was the subject of “Taking Leadership to the Everyday World,” and in sessions on the business, government, or the nonprofit sector, delegates had a chance to learn what life was like in the leadership trenches, from both a training and a working perspective. Donald Gibson, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the School of Management, neatly encapsulated a perennial challenge. “You can have fantastic vision and technology, but it’s all for naught if you can’t communicate with people and then energize and motivate them to grab onto organizational goals,” said Gibson. “It’s all about communication and credibility.”

It is, of course, a long way from a classroom simulation to the crunch-time situation well known to every manager, and though a Yale education, particularly on the undergraduate level, is weighted more towards the theoretical than the practical, the speakers described some of the opportunities the University offers for gaining real-world leadership experience. These ranged from classroom projects to such endeavors as internships, volunteerism, and participation in the Associated Student Agencies, a collective of for-profit businesses run by Yale students for the campus community.

But while some of the panelists suggested there could be more real-world ties in the curriculum, no one was pressing the University to transform itself into a vocational school. Alex Richardson '83MBA, the founder and CEO of the Internet software company Lexitech Worldwide, explained that while technical skills were important, they could be picked up on the job fairly quickly. “I’m looking for people who can solve problems and deal with ambiguity,” said Richardson. “That ability is the hallmark of a liberal arts education, and of a Yale-trained manager: a leader with the character, capacity, and skills to change the world.”

In a speech at the Assembly luncheon, President Levin told delegates that this training role was about to expand. After he detailed Yale’s leadership role in the revitalization of New Haven and described the progress of rebuilding efforts on campus, the President announced the launching of the World Fellows Program. This endeavor will bring to the Law School for one year, “people of prominence in their late 20s and early 30s from the corporate and government sectors, as well as from law, finance, religion, and science and technology,” said Levin. “These are leaders with enormous potential, people on a path to greatness.”

Nurturing them through a “highly personalized curriculum” will, the President told his audience, “increase Yale’s prominence around the world.” It will also, appropriately enough, continue a mission begun nearly 300 years ago.  the end


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