Leadership is Learned

On Tuesday, Boston University’s interim President, Ken Freeman, spoke at our all-school meeting. President Freeman has a distinguished history of service to BU, including eight years as the Dean of BU’s Questrom School of Business. That service followed a nearly forty-year career in industry, including senior executive positions at Corning, Quest Diagnostics, and private-equity firm KKR. In 2013, Harvard Business Review named him one of the 100 best performing CEOs in the world. He knows some things about leadership – his topic that morning. He offered a lively overview of what we know about successful leadership, peppering his talk with anecdotes and grounding it in decades of scholarship about what works and what doesn’t. He invited students to think about their own preferred leadership styles and challenged them to begin developing their own leadership philosophies. He touted the centrality of EQ. Most notably, he assured our students that leadership is learned. 

Before introducing President Freeman, I shared a brief story on this last theme. After years of teaching, I was thinking about becoming a head of school but was intimidated by the idea. I thought about my role models – my headmaster when I was a boy, heads of school I had worked for, and many others I had come to know and admire over the years. To my mind, they all “had it.” I assumed that their leadership ability was somehow innate – that they had emerged, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, fully grown, clad in armor, and ready for battle. Did I have it? What if I didn’t? I mentioned my hesitation to a mentor who very quickly set me straight. He assured me, like President Freeman did for our students, that leaders are grown. He offered me a reading list and a series of coaching conversations with him to process what I was reading. He gave me the confidence to try. 

I heard from dozens of bbin娱乐平台 students about how much they enjoyed President Freeman’s talk. My hope is that, at least for some of them, his words give them the confidence to try too. We will all be better for it.

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