Are leaders born, or made? What are the mantras for leadership? The quest for these intriguing questions inspired me to apply to the L.E.A.D. program. It’s almost been a semester of L.E.A.D.ing and I can proudly say that LEAD has been a great experience for me. Earlier, I had taken on small, scattered leadership roles in high school. I joined L.E.A.D. with the hopes of becoming a better leader by the end, and I can proudly say that our LEAD Directors—Jeremy, Davis and Aily—have done a great job in organizing the events directed towards that goal. From attending our first lecture with Prof. Heidi Brooks to learning about different “leadership personalities,” from the importance of mentorship by the former Undersecretary of the US Treasury for Domestic Finance to practical hands-on lessons on leaders by the Chief of Yale Police, from Ice Cream Socials to Bio Night, from serving as the Social Chair for my class to organizing the Harvard-Yale Leadership Institutes’ mixer, it has been a rewarding journey in my quest for leadership mantras.
I would like to share an interesting leadership learning experience I had. The weekend before November recess was the Harvard-Yale Game. I couldn’t go to the Game as I had to participate in a trading competition at MIT the same time. After the competition, I stayed with a friend at Harvard Business School (HBS) that weekend. He asked me about my plans for Monday. I didn’t have any at that time but when I saw his schedule for Monday, a class caught my attention—a leadership class. I immediately inquired whether I could attend that class. He emailed the professor and I was given the opportunity to be a guest in that class.
Attending a class at HBS with people who have already accomplished something substantial was a dream come true for me. I was excited beyond description for the class. * The case for Monday’s class was on a Japanese Company, Rakuten Inc. and its “English-nization” project. It was an interesting case about a company that suddenly decides to shift its mode of communication from Japanese to English.
Hiroshi Mikitani, the Chairman and CEO of Rakuten Group, declared: “Our goal is not to become the No.1 company in Japan but to become the No. 1 Internet service company in the world. As we consider the future potential growth of the Japanese market and our company, global implementation is not a nice-to-have but a must-do”. He decided that it was crucial for Rakuten and Japan to migrate to English in order to globalize successfully. He gave all the employees a two-year notice to pick up the language. The class argued heatedly about the implementation steps that Mikitani had taken towards reaching that goal. We reached the conclusion that he didn’t give any extra resources or time to the employees and so most of them saw their sleeping hours being reduced. On the other hand, he had a Do-It-Yourself policy that was quite effective. He said, “I’d rather raise salaries than give free education. If we pay for the employees to get free lessons, they may not take it as seriously as when they pay for the classes themselves. It’s a demonstration of commitment.” Hiroshi Mikitani has also published a book about the project titled “Takaga Eigo!” (“It’s only English!”). He writes in the book that if Rakuten succeeds in English-nization it will bring a revolution to the Japanese business-management theory.
The class was well structured and there were plenty of takeaways. What I liked the most was the class’s general approach toward leadership—how leaders have to focus on setting the right direction and equipping people with the right resources to achieve that goal. Most importantly, leaders have to constantly inspire and motivate people by setting a self-example. I guess, I just discovered my very first mantra of leadership: lead yourself to lead others.
Shantanu Gangwar CC’16
* Classes at HBS follow a case-by-case format. Before each class, the Professor emails the students about a company in the form of a case study and then everyone discusses the policies in class and the decisions made by the leader.
Shantanu Gangwar is a freshman in Calhoun College. He hails from New Delhi, India, where he was involved in activities ranging from being Chief Editor of Science magazines at his high school, playing varsity Soccer, and directing the electronics club. He was awarded India’s top invention award for one of his innovations and also has two patent applications to his name. At Yale, he plans to take courses in computer science, electrical engineering and economics and hopes to combine these into a suitable career later. In addition to being the Social Chair for L.E.A.D., he is an investment analyst for the Yale Student Investment Group, a member of the Yale Cricket Team and of the International Student Organization’s Treasury and South Asian Film Society. When Shantanu is not analyzing securities for pitches in the Investment Group or taking part in investing competitions, he enjoys dancing in events held by South Asian Society, chilling out with friends and playing IM sports for Calhoun College.
Germany attacks France. The UK allies with the USSR. Mexico takes out the United States. These were just some of the events that occurred in our enthralling WW2 simulation, which has been the highlight of my L.E.A.D Year One experience so far. The unexpected nature of these actions highlights the ingenuity of this year’s L.E.A.D class, and exemplifies the benefits of such an activity: one is forced to think creatively, logically and strategically at the same time, and adjust to unexpected occurrences on the spot.
We were divided into teams of four, with each team representing a major nation during WWII. With specific objectives assigned to us prior to the start of the simulation, we set about engaging in negotiations with other nations over a course of 15 rounds in an attempt to achieve both those goals whilst still preserving our troop count.
It is fair to say I failed in achieving my targets. Acting as the President of the USA, I was unable to ‘prevent the U.S.S.R. and Germany from expanding,’ (the USSR finished in France) and ‘maintain or expand American power in the least costly way possible,’ (our remaining troops were wiped out by Mexico in round 11).
Despite this, not only did I have a great time, but I was able to learn significant lessons from this process about leadership. The fast-paced, frantic nature of the game alerted me to the fact that leaders not only have to make decisions, but sometimes they have to make very quick decisions. Weighing up all the pros and cons of a potential action is great, but occasionally one needs to make a gut judgment. This may end up being the right move or the wrong move, but the most important thing is to ensure it is you, as the leader, in the midst of all the shouting and chaos, who makes that final decision.
One of the most difficult things I found with this task was that there were such a plethora of external motives which affected my own interests. Preparation is a great way to feel in control, but often preparation can only take you so far. With so many different factors in play each round, it was clear that I had drawn too many assumptions from the beginning of this exercise. In the very first round for example, I learned, contrary to my expectations, that Japan actually wanted to protect China. A large portion of my game plan was suddenly rendered moot. Immediately, my team was forced to re-evaluate the situation under extreme time pressure. Such versatility under duress is consequently a necessity when it comes to successful leadership.
The final lesson I took from this experience was the art of negotiation. Slightly naive and overly generous, our team embarked on the colossal task of playing peacekeeper and guardian over Europe and Asia. In hindsight, this goal was overly optimistic, especially given the motives of other nations, which meant our negotiation tactics were slightly naïve and overly forthcoming. Body language, tone of voice, and eye-contact are all just as important as the content of the negotiation I discovered. A good leader must consequently develop an ability to read such traits, to gauge a sense of the opposing party’s view on the issue and to extract the salient points of the negotiation. Such fierce examination of the exchange is vital in order to obtain the correct information and consequently make the best decision to further your own interests.
I have always been interested in leadership and fascinated by the skills that constitute a successful leader, but L.E.A.D classes such as these are what have developed my own leadership skills by offering me the opportunity to engage in interactive workshops (especially as the President of the USA!) and learn from the skills of the rest of my class members.
Saif Islam is a freshman in Berkeley College. He lives in London, UK, but is originally from Karachi, Pakistan, which is the inspirational force behind much of what he does. Outside of the L.E.A.D classroom, Saif works as an account executive on the Yaily Daily News Business team and is a Conference Coordinator for Yale UNICEF. He has a passion for entrepreneurship and hopes to use the skills from L.E.A.D to start his own organization in the future. For now, he enjoys playing soccer (which he insists on calling football) and basketball as well as developing his ‘American accent’ to exasperate his friends and family back home!
Good speeches last forever in the minds of people. Who hasn’t heard of Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” or analyzed Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches”? Great speeches have a “thing” that makes them unique, memorable, and powerful.
In our L.E.A.D. class on public speaking last semester, we discussed the importance of the activity and the craft that goes into writing and delivering a speech. After we arrived in our traditional meeting place in William Harkness Hall, our teachers, Aily and Davis, informed us: “In two weeks you will give a speech to your fellow classmates.” Uneasiness quickly filled the air in the room. “But we’ll teach you how to do it.” Relief.
That L.E.A.D. class was perhaps one of the most interesting so far. I have always considered myself to be a good public speaker: attending events like M.U.N. gave me the opportunity to speak up on the most various issues – from the (fictitious) death of Hugo Chavez to the question of nuclear weapons in Iran.
Yet, as Davis pointed out, you can be the most experienced speaker and still have something to learn. During our class, we analyzed some of their speeches, to see how verbal and non-verbal communication cues are important in delivering a good speech. As we shared out-loud our impressions about the speaker’s posture, use of pathos, and (appropriate) integration of comedy, it hit me: the greatest thing about Yale, and specifically L.E.A.D. is the opportunity to interact with people who have same interests, but yet have different opinions.
Consider this: the L.E.A.D. class of 2016 is composed of varsity-athletes, ROTC participants, international students – people from the most varied backgrounds. As a hodgepodge of cultures, interests and experiences, we make the most terrifying audience a speaker could ask for. Besides being Yale students that are interested by leadership, there is, in my opinion, very common ground between us all. A speaker, therefore, cannot craft his speech to appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos as he normally would.
Yet, we all found different reasons why Obama’s speech in the Democratic National Convention was great, or why a TEDTalk about the power of introverts appealed to us. Great speeches are great because they individually talk to each one of us. The ability to touch upon each of us and to make us feel like the speech has been crafted just for us is something that is truly admirable. In order to do so, a great speaker must talk generally about an issue, but connect with his audience through non-verbal clues, such as hand gestures, posture and eye-contact.
After the workshop, Suyash (from the L.E.A.D. class of 2015) delivered us the speech he presented in his class last year. Suyash not only showed how a speech about a topic that has nothing to do with us can feel personal - he delivered a moving testimony from a mock-trial event he had attended in high school, impersonating an an Indian CEO on trial for fraud – but also what the greatness of L.E.A.D. is: we are part of a network of students who are willing to grow, and help others to grow…
João Pedro de Oliveira Mello Drechsler (or simply, JP) is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. Hailing from Porto Alegre, Brazil, and interested in all things international, he hopes to major in Economics, Global Affairs, Linguistics, Applied Mathematics, Philosophy or any combination of the above. When he is not engaging in L.E.A.D. activities, he is participating in meetings at the Financials Department of the Yale Student Investment Group, consulting for clients in the Elmseed Enterprise Fund, helping plan YMUN and YMUN China, getting excited about his upcoming trip to Ghana, eating-out in New Haven’s endless restaurants or DS-library-hopping.
Recently, a few of my close friends (including L.E.A.D. Class of 2016 members Ruchi Gupta and David Chi) and I started a Facebook group, “For the Sharing of Cool Things.” As avid followers of the newest startups, passionate listeners of TED talks, and enthusiastic supporters of the latest innovations, we wanted to create an online medium for sharing anything and everything interesting – articles, video clips, website links, and more.
With “For the Sharing of Cool Things” underway, I’ve been motivated to search the Internet for thought-provoking material the group might appreciate. Interestingly enough, a single overarching theme connects my findings: leadership. One recent search rendered a definition of a specific type of organizational leadership – transformational leadership – that particularly resonated with me. According to psychologist Iain Hay, this kind of leadership “facilitates a redefinition of a people’s mission and vision, a renewal of their commitment and the restructuring of their systems for goal accomplishment. It is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.”
Hay’s definition of transformational leadership, rife with substance and optimism, summarizes my own notions of what it means to be a leader. And upon further thought, I realized that these words characterize the two societal roles I most admire and hope to pursue in the future: entrepreneurs and teachers. Both require a vision, both necessitate a change in the status quo, and both produce meaningful social impact for the benefit of a larger whole.
I first became interested in, and realized the value of, entrepreneurs when I was in the process of launching a non-profit in high school. Although the mission of the project was simple – to donate baseball gear to various low-income communities in the Dominican Republic – the execution was, needless to say, difficult. Mere determination to bring baseball supplies to Dominican children proved was crucial for my young organization, but clearly wouldn’t suffice on its own. I had to quickly learn and develop leadership qualities and skills – communication, networking, goal setting, resourcefulness, marketing, time-management, decision-making, etc. – to effectively carry out my mission. The more progress I had made with my non-profit, the more profound appreciation I had for those who not only have innovative ideas, but also put in the time and effort to make their vision come to fruition.
Teaching, on the other hand, is something I became intensely passionate about as a sophomore in high school, the year I had my favorite teacher and greatest life mentor for English class. Inside the classroom and out, through things seemingly insignificant yet undeniably meaningful, she epitomizes leadership; not only did I become a much better reader and writer under her guidance, but I also became a sharper critical thinker. With the ability to channel all four leadership styles we discussed in L.E.A.D. earlier in the semester (relationship master, analyst/architect, driver, spontaneous motivator), she is nothing short of inspiring. Because of her, my dream job is to be an English teacher.
Let’s be clear: neither entrepreneurship nor teaching in itself is really a profession. You don’t need to be the founder of a social enterprise or in a high school classroom to demonstrate the qualities and skills of a transformational leader. Rather, anyone can perform the simple act of starting something or teaching something. For instance, if you are interested in preventing homelessness, you can start a food drive that would make a positive difference in a few lives at the very least. If you’re interested in electric cars, for example, sharing this passion and knowledge with others could potentially inspire them to become involved in the industry. The L.E.A.D. mentorship program, through which freshmen members are paired with upperclassmen with specific areas of interest, is yet another alternative form of transformational leadership.
Ultimately, my reflections regarding transformational leadership, entrepreneurship, and education have led me to one conclusion: that there is so much opportunity for successful and significant leadership in today’s globalized, technology-laden society. And I think it’s up to our generation – which includes the L.E.A.D. Class of 2016 – to take initiative and make the most of these opportunities.
(Andrew, at Llama Land, a special place that TD Freshmen visit during Camp Yale.)
Andrew Stein is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College from Tampa, Florida. His academic interests lie in English, psychology, and economics. With passions for teaching, policy, and entrepreneurship, Andrew intends to make a positive difference in the field of education (and backpack a bunch!) after he graduates. In his free time, he enjoys playing ping-pong, reading, writing, volunteering, and hanging with friends. At Yale, Andrew is the Undergraduate Organizations Committee Secretary, a ReadySetLaunch mentor, a BookMarks tutor, and a Net Impact member.
As I thrust the door open and rushed out of my suite this morning, I noticed something fall from the doorknob. It was a small flyer reading, “Vote Today!” Yes, it was finally Election Day, the day when America chooses its leader for the next four years.
Through my exposure to various discourses on leadership over the past few weeks through L.E.A.D., my interest in the election leaned not towards the political debates but rather towards the question of what leadership styles each candidate represented. While reading through some articles that analyzed the leadership styles of Obama and Romney, I stumbled upon quite an unexpected statement: that they were both introverts. One article even quoted the journalist Jonathan Alter who characterized Obama as concealed inside “a layer of protective ice.”
This would strike many people odd mainly because of two reasons. First of all, we usually do not call men whose job involves speaking in front of the whole nation “introverts.” Introverts are supposed to be horrible at public speaking and reluctant to stand in front of a crowd. Moreover, even if we forget about the public speaking issue, it just sounds more natural for a leader, especially for a leader of a nation, to be an active extrovert, who is adept in dealing with people and influencing them.
According to Susan Cain, the author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, these thoughts are results of the society’s biased definition of introversion. She argues in her famous TED Talk “The Power of Introverts” that today’s culture values extroversion so much as to dismiss introverts simply as socially awkward, and therefore disadvantaged, people. She believes that introverts, who actually compose about one third of the population, are just people who need solitude in order to engage in deep thinking which often results in creative solutions. Thus, introverts also make good leaders.
As an introvert myself, I was more than glad to find out that this new positive light on introversion was spreading quite rapidly. The critics who argue that introverts possess qualities necessary for leadership often give Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi as examples of introverted leaders. And upon perusing more readings on this topic, I found that these representatives of introversion, including Susan Cain, generally speak of two main leadership strengths of introverts. One is that introverts are more capable of making sound decisions based on careful thought, and less prone to riskier behavior. Also, since introverts are more willing to listen to others than extroverts, they are better at gathering the opinions of others and extracting original ideas from members.
Although I completely agree with these benefits of introverted leadership, I believe there is even more to it. I believe introversion does more than providing useful tools of leadership. I believe that during their moments of quietness, introverted people do more than make good decisions out of given choices or listen well to others. I believe they possess a more fundamental attribute which may not necessarily make them better leaders with useful skills, but which actually qualifies them to be leaders in the first place. That is, introverts tend to advocate for sincere causes.
Of course, I am not trying to say that only introverted leaders have good causes and extroverted leaders have skeptical motives. I am also not saying that all introverts are good leaders with good motives, either. Instead, I am convinced that certain characteristics of introverts, such as their tendency to enjoy and to engage in profound thinking and careful self-reflection, make it easier for them to be deeply committed to a cause. Moreover, since it takes more courage for introverts to stand up and to take action outside of their private thinking than it does for extroverts, they better have a really good reason when they do. Simply put, introverts tend to know why they are doing something and sincerely believe in their actions. This strong motive is what enables them to even overcome their “deficiencies” as introverts.
The last point I want to stress is that, in fact, we all have introverts in us. Besides the one third of the population who identify themselves as introverts, people have, to some extent, introverted sides of their personality. Labeling ourselves extroverts or introverts is just a matter of how much of our personalities lean towards either side. Thus, my point is not about whether “pure introverts” or “pure extroverts” are better leaders. Rather, I want to say that the introverted sides within us should not be discouraged from playing roles in our lives.
What advice do I have to give? Sometimes, take a breath from all the social meetings and enjoy solitude. Sometimes, hold on to your own arguments to listen more carefully to what others are saying. Sometimes, take a pause from building up careers and extracurricular activities and think about why you are striving after success.
Just as we try to hone our public speaking skills through practicing giving speeches, the introverted qualities of leadership should also be developed with as much emphasis. Perhaps, that was exactly what President Obama was doing when he “concealed himself inside a layer of protective ice.”
Jiwon Lee is a freshman at Calhoun College. Growing up in Seoul, South Korea, where educational policies constantly rise as subjects of heated debates, Jiwon has been pursuing her interest in education through community service, research, and writing. She loves kids as much as she loves teaching them, and dreams of ultimately brining changes to the educational environments around the world. At Yale, she is still exploring various subjects but hopes to study social sciences. Other than L.E.A.D., she is currently involved in the Yale Gospel Choir, UNICEF at Yale, Yale Faith and Action, and the Roosevelt Institute.
For most of us here at Yale, our only interaction with Chief Ronnell Higgins occurs when we check our email and see the subject line: A message from Chief Ronnell Higgins. However, within the first few weeks of being on campus, it became clear to me that he was not just the man behind the name in a subject line, but a crime-fighting super-hero (of sorts). On November 7th, Chief Higgins spoke in front of my L.E.A.D. Class. It was crazy to think that the Chief himself was standing before our Lead class. And, I have to say, I hope many of you get the chance to meet him during your time at Yale.
As he sat on the corner of a desk, cup of coffee in hand, I didn’t really know what the Chief would talk about. I had made an assumption, while maybe not apparent at the time, that institutions such as the Yale Police Department were some how different from private run businesses as far as leadership and management were concerned. However, as it became clear by the end of the class, my assumption was invariably wrong. What bridges these seemingly disparate sectors is the necessity of establishing what Chief Higgins termed, “a unity of effort.” Now, what does “a unity of effort” even mean? As Higgins put it, a unity of effort occurs when those who you do and do not have complete control over share the same objective, whether that entails keeping the public safe or creating the most energy efficient cars.
How does an institution, whether public or private, go about cultivating such “unity of effort?” First and foremost, Higgins stressed the importance of setting a clear goal, one that is known by anyone and everyone working within an institution, regardless of position or rank. “If I asked anyone in my office what our goal was, they should know it: keep the community safe … if not, they shouldn’t be working with us,” Higgins said, plain and simple. With this foundation in place, it is incumbent upon the institution to balance leadership with management. As Chief Higgins stated, “You can’t have one with out the other.”
Ultimately, what has struck me most about Chief Higgins is the love he has for his work, and his ability to instill within his police force that exact same passion. I can only hope years down the road, I find myself able to make a similar assessment about my line of work. In the meantime, I’ll be taking a look at the Harvard Business Review, as recommended by the Chief for “quality reading on leadership,” no matter where my loyalties actually lie…
Katayon is a freshman in Silliman College. A Kansas City native, she can go from barbeque to kabobs thanks to the Persian culture she was raised in. In fact, Katayon has traveled regularly to Iran to visit family. Here at Yale, she enjoys figure skating with the Yale Collegiate Figure Skating Club, learning more about film, and playing piano. In addition to LEAD, she is a member of Yale’s Freshman Class Council.
Being a member of L.E.A.D. has spiked my interest on scholarly work relating to leadership. Recently, I read “The End of Leadership: Exemplary Leadership Is Impossible Without Full Inclusion, Initiatives, and Cooperation of Followers” by Warren Bennis, that critiques top-down leadership. Though the article is from the 1990s, I argue that it still rings true today.
The article claims that the idea of traditional top-down leadership is based on a myth deeply ingrained and celebrated in American culture: the “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” American Dream. The distinction between “leader” and “hero” become blurred in this context as leadership is seen as an individual phenomenon. With our shrinking world, there are fewer areas where top-down leadership suffices, but we continue to live in a culture of individuals, with “larger-than-life individuals shouting commands, giving direction [… ] and changing paradigms with brio and shimmer.”
To shows that “adaptive problems require complex and diverse alliances”, Bennis goes on to describe an experiment designed by Alex Bavelas, a social psychologist. The experiment attempts to determine the efficiency of different organizational structures – the Wheel (the typical top-down model), the Chain (a slight modification of the Wheel), and the Circle (where one could talk to those two adjacent to him or her). Those in the experiment could only communicate via note cards and had to determine what color marble all the subjects had in common with the box of six they were given. As expected, when the marbles were distinctively colored, the Chain was the most efficient, and the central person had the highest morale while the other group members were annoyed. However, when the marbles were more ambiguously colored, the Circle was the most efficient and all members had a relatively high morale.
There is a new more subtle and indirect way for leaders to be effective, and Bennis suggests that there are four “competencies” that determine the success of this “New Leadership”. New Leaders are “connoisseurs of talent” and do not have to be the cleverest or sharpest. Instead, they remind people of the company’s vision and help sustain collectively focused energy. They maintain trust, which is the emotional glue of the organization, and they also ally with those they lead. As Luciano de Crescenzo aptly puts it, “ We are all angels with only one wing / We can only fly while embracing each other.”
Bennis makes an interesting and valid point in this paper – collaboration and communication amongst those in an organization is key to its success. L.E.A.D seems to have adopted this model, calling for collaboration at all levels. For example, the L.E.A.D directors not only laid out the expectations for us, but also asked for our expectations from then, and also emphasize their accessibility. This two-way communication is probably one of the main reasons why I love being a part of L.E.A.D and will continue to be a part of it in the future.
Ruchita (Ruchi) Gupta is a freshman at Timothy Dwight College from Pleasanton, California. She enjoys dancing, oil painting, reading, and watching TV, especially Modern Family. She also likes to learn economics, psychology, and Japanese. Besides L.E.A.D, she is a part of the Yale Economic Review, Yale Student Investment Group, Smart Women Securities, and Women’s Leadership Institute.
On October 19th, 2012, The Yale Leadership Institute and L.E.A.D. were honored to have Mr. Jeffrey Goldstein, the former Undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury for Domestic Finance to speak about his “3 Key Lessons of Leadership.”
Selected word bytes are below:
My Three Key Lessons are as follows:
1) Follow your passion
2) Work with people you love and find a mentor
3) Contribute to the public sector
Regarding one’s education:
"I don’t think it matters at all what you major in. The beauty of a first class liberal arts education is about learning how to break down a problem. Learning how to think through a problem, and how to develop an array of potential solutions [is most important]."
"What really matters is that you have a passion for what you’re studying and doing. This is the intellectual and analytical framework you’ll be walking around with."
Regarding working well with others:
I conduct “The Australian Plane test”. If I’m sitting on a plane for 16 hours next to an associate, I want to be the most amicable companion I can be. If you want to work with people you love, you have to be someone others love to work with.
Regarding building a team and working as leader within a team:
"We don’t want to hire any jerks, and we don’t want to hire any peacocks. We want to hire people that will benefit from their contribution to the team, rather than their individual contribution. By creating this culture, you’ll have the best team."
There is a lot of noise at Yale about what the “right” courses to take your freshman year are, what the “right” extra-curricular activities to be involved in are, what the “right” internships to pursue are, and what the “right” leadership styles are…Strong judgments voiced with confidence can be seductive, but they will never replace your own informed decision-making process. Listening to Jeffrey Goldstein, who as a L.E.A.D.’s key note speaker on October 19th share his insights from over 25 years of professional experience in the government, in academia and on Wall Street, confirmed my idea that genuine leadership talent cannot be narrowly defined.
When asked about the most efficient, or the “right”, leadership style, Jeffrey Goldstein said: “The best way to answer this question is at a very personal level.” I believe that this response applies also to other areas of life: deciding whether to stay all eight terms at Yale or to take a year abroad, to be a “secure” economics major or to follow your artistic passion, to pursue Ph.D. or to accept a job offer immediately after graduation??? Questions abound.
The truth is that there are no “right” or “wrong” ways. So far, nobody has written a universal recipe delineating step-by-step how to become a leader or to be successful in your life. I doubt if such guidelines could ever be written. Leadership is a creative act and, therefore, a very individual one. I think that the best decisions are made when we look at a situation not as a problem but as a possible opportunity for spiritual and intellectual growth. Surely, this may sometimes require much creativity and perseverance but I believe such an attitude is what genuine leadership is about.
Although the Q&A session with Professor Goldstein finished, our Yale Leadership Institute (YLI) education never ends; it continues even after we leave the conference room while we discuss our reflections with other L.E.A.D.ers. Last Friday, Jeffrey Goldstein joined our class for dinner, during which he shared reflections about his service in both the public and private sector (He was the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance, the CFO in the World Bank and a Princeton University professor) and about what he wishes he had known as an undergrad. He noted how incredibly fortunate he was to meet charismatic mentors who helped him to make informed decisions about his academic and professional career.
One advice that Jeffrey Goldstein shared with the L.E.A.D. of Class 2016 and 2015 was: “challenge yourselves with courses and activities that lie beyond the scope of your major.” Being blessed to study at Hogwarts (I mean, Yale), I have access to more opportunities than I will ever have time to try. Although at this moment of my life I am not perfectly sure whether I want to be an astrophysics researcher, an aerospace engineer or a science policy maker, I am more than convinced that if I keep challenging myself, I will be able to make a positive impact in the field I ultimately choose.
The meeting and dinner with Jeffrey Goldstein assured me that leadership is not like a math class - you cannot go through the problem set and say “Ok, I did it. That’s all. Here is the proof.” Genuine leadership is more like engineering – it is a skill that allows one to create new structures within a community and to make lasting impact, but requires innovation and creativity. Similarly as in engineering design, real life problems are open-ended – there is no answer key, no “right” answers at the end of the book. But we do not need any pre-set solutions, because we want to construct our future and the society around us (“at a very personal level”) in agreement with our values and ideals.
Iwona Chalus is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College and is a prospective Engineering or Math and Philosophy double major. Iwona lived and worked/studied in Finland, France, Greece, Poland, Canada and the United States. At Yale, Iwona has found a new home among friends in Yale Aerospace Association and the International Students Organization. After not even a fortnight since arriving to the US, she secured a job as an undergraduate researcher at the Yale Nanodevices Laboratory. After her weekly Electronics Lab, she runs down the Science Hill to take Art History classes in Loria. When not preparing for pitches in the Yale Student Investment Group, Iwonka enjoys reading baroque poetry, sailing and doing night-sky Messier marathons with her friends.
Many rational humans like to believe that they can and should singularly control what happens to them. It may be comforting to think that “created opportunity,” so to speak, can define the remainder of one’s life. Security in one’s plans implies stability, and it’s understandable to want to pursue it.
Setting up a good future for oneself is a realm of thought that sometimes drives many a college student to the verge of insanity, myself included. “How on earth do I carve a path for myself, occupation aside, comparable to those of people who have shaped our present society?” I cannot help but ask whenever a lecture becomes particularly uninteresting or a conversation about college majors (to which I can contribute nothing) too conflicting. On Friday, October 19th, the L.E.A.D. program set its sights on changing this mindset perhaps not explicitly, but rather via the words of someone who has been through indecision amidst copious opportunities, only to emerge an even more distinguished leader.
As Jeffrey Goldstein walked through the classroom door at 220 York Street, an aura of importance preceding him, I noticed my fellow students’ admiration (and perhaps intimidation) at what he’d done throughout his career:
Distinguished economics Ph.D.
Successful investment banker.
CFO of the World Bank.
US Under Secretary of Domestic Finance.
Wonderful father and mentor.
The list goes on.
He greeted us warmly, and our feelings of nervous anticipation immediately vanished. When he introduced himself, he indicated that he was there for us. It was clear from the beginning that he would encourage student questions much more than extended monologues on his part, which was comforting. Among the countless wonderful and pertinent questions that ensued from us, the most powerful to me was the one that had been plaguing me for some time:
”Mr. Goldstein, how did you decide what career path was right for you at different points in your life?”
His answer is perhaps one of the most priceless pieces of advice I have ever been given.
”I don’t know. Luck played a significant factor; not everything had been established beforehand.”
From this assertion, Mr. Goldstein went on to discuss the clichéd yet definite importance of doing what one loves with the right people, but perhaps more strikingly, he declared that most of what we choose to study in college will dictate very little of what we will ultimately do with our lives. In the long run, choices become more fluid, not every desired opportunity will present itself, and those that do may be out of sheer coincidence.
His verdict? With some exceptions, college majors are not as important as they seem. The value of a top-quality liberal arts education lies in personal development well beyond essays and tests, and spontaneity is a facet of life that we must accept in and out of the professional world. Perhaps my mind deceives me, but I like to think that I heard numerous sighs coming from my fellow L.E.A.D. classmates, almost as if we had all breathed out in a collective expression of relief. Yes, the relentless uncertainty of college life is something we all grapple with. But, at that very moment, we were certain things would work out in the long run.
I have developed a new habit as of last week: whenever I panic and enter an existential crisis about my future, I now have Mr. Goldstein’s advice to soothe me, nudging me with a dose of reality reminding me that there is still much time to decide what to do, numerous journeys still to complete, and the rest of our lives to flourish.
Miguel is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, and a current resident of Orlando, Florida, he has grown up in a self-described “cherished melting pot of Italian, Portuguese, and American cultures.” Stemming from his high school education, his simultaneous passions for music and leadership development have taken him to places ranging from Aspen, Colorado, to Carnegie Hall in New York, yet have curiously made deciding on a career path a significant challenge for him. In addition to L.E.A.D., Miguel is an active financial analyst within the Yale Student Investment Group, “writer-in-much-needed-training” at the Yale Daily News, outgoing internship coordinator for Yale’s AIESEC chapter, and bassoonist for the Yale Concert Band and Yale Symphony Orchestra.