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JP-pic 2Dr. John Psarouthakis, Executive Editor,
The Business Thinker

This article is part of a seminar given at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

The future will demand new leaders – leaders with a deep understanding of science and engineering who possess the ability, values, and desire to apply their knowledge wisely and creatively to the betterment of humankind

Let me begin my observations on leadership with a brief rundown of some of the varied expectations of a university president these days.

He or she should be a: scholar, politician, fund-raiser, budget cutter, salary-raiser, father confessor, negotiator, diplomat, parental substitute, guarantor of safety, provider of wholesome and tasty dorm meals, dedicated researcher, conservator of age-old values, politically correct and hip leader, director of big-time athletics, witty spokesperson to the press, expert on all things, humble servant, charismatic leader, eloquent speaker, sophisticated host, example of physical fitness, well-read, scientist, historian, literary devotee, arbiter of musical taste, expert on waste disposal, investment guru, friend of the city council, towering public figure, and “just one of the guys.”

But we are not here today to discuss the roles of university presidents, although that list does reflect some of the issues about the nature of leadership in contemporary America.

As we look at the state of the nation and the world, there is no question that strong and wise leadership is needed at our Universities.

But there are questions that we must ask:

–Are we exercising the leadership that we are capable of?

–Are we preparing our students to be leaders?

–Leadership takes many forms. The issue as posed for this session has an implicit view of leadership–namely organizational leaders: people who lead companies, banks, universities, government organizations, major political entities, and so forth. We tend to talk about who works for whom. This certainly is one definition of leadership, but I want to explore some other aspects as well.

Some years ago, there was an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Lives Well Lived.” It opened with the editor noting that when the physicist John Bardeen died in 1991, his obituary stated that “there are very few people who had a greater impact on the whole of the 20th century.” Bardeen was a man with two Nobel prizes for two entirely different accomplishments in physics. One of these prizes was for work that made modern computers and solid-state electronics possible. How, the editor asked, could someone have such great accomplishment and have so pro s. One was Elizabeth Paepcke, who founded the Aspen Institute. Another was the musician Cab Calloway. Among the others were the biologist Linus Pauling, art curator Henry Geldzahler, author Ralph Ellison, feminist leader Kathryn Clarenbach, athlete Wilma Rudolph, and statesman George Ball.

Did these people exemplify leadership? Each certainly was a change agent. Does being a change agent constitute a form of leadership? Or is it something else? Should we only count how many CEOs graduate from MIT when we assess our effectiveness in educating leaders.

foundly affected her world, and not even have a name that she had heard before?

The people profiled in the article were people of strong but highly varied accomplishment


  1. Dimitri Bianco, FRM 1st
    Quantitative Risk Management
    You make some great points. I think most people see a leader as those that lead people whereas people such as John Bardeen are idea leaders. Both are crucial for a society and it is becoming more important to be able to do both though it is a rare combination of skills.

    1. Mr. Bianco, Thank you for your important comment. Yes indeed, it is becoming ever more important / necessary for the leader to be able to do both. On the ideas to use positive persuasion for acceptance of the idea(s) and motivate the team to drive toward putting into practice the idea(s) and achieve the desired result(s).

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