The Leaders That We Actually Need

Last May, my friend Alex Thompson wrote:

“So, based on the current structure of the Academy and
this class, what kinds of leaders is it educating? At least to me, it seems
like the Academy is creating the leaders society expects it to make: eloquent,
well-cultured, networked, strong-willed and strong-opinionated individuals. But
are these the kinds of leaders society really needs? I’m not so sure. I worry
that we will turn into the politicians and socialites that we see on TV and in
the media: big personalities with lots to say, but relatively little
understanding. This is not quite the leader that Academy said it was going to
foster; in this respect, I am a little disappointed.”

I remember vaguely my PLA interview in the spring of my
freshman year. The question came up of what I thought I would gain from my
experience in the PLA. At that point I had no concrete idea what the PLA really
was, so I figured I would wing my response and ramble off something about how I
hoped to gain new insight into leadership techniques that I could apply to my
work later on. Melissa and Dean Brady’s expressions told me that I hadn’t quite
grasped how leadership would be defined by the PLA. This excerpt from the PLA’s
website show us what has been the focus of our program for the past two years:

“[the development] of critical thinking abilities
necessary for leaders to implement decisions with sensitivity to the
circumstances that led them there, and the ability to rethink decisions and
even change course along the way, if that is in the best interests of
employers, shareholders, clients, families, organization, or communities.”

The topic of critical thinking has permeated our discussions
and blog posts since our first class last fall, but I think that what Alex
wrote is still true; we all like to be heard -but I’m not sure we actually care
about the topics we discuss.

My international business class this semester has given me
new insight into our approach to current affairs. It seems that almost every
lecture my professor reminds us of the importance of differentiating ourselves
in the eyes of recruiters though developing the habit of skimming the NYT
Business pages before every class. This is a great practice, except for the
motivation behind it. We’re told to ask two questions when reading an article:
“how does this affect my industry” and “how does this affect my job”. It’s hard
to measure, given my young age, but I believe that the overly-competitive
culture that has developed in the States over the past 10 years is hindering
students from developing true passions and convictions because they are too
consumed with making themselves appear employable in front of everyone else’s
eyes. I think Alex nailed it when he wrote:

“At least to me, it seems like the Academy is creating
the leaders society expects it to make: eloquent, well-cultured, networked,
strong-willed and strong-opinioned individuals. But are these the kinds of
leaders society really needs?”

I think that what we really need are men and women who
aren’t motivated by personal promotion, who don’t care about appearances, but
who see injustice and get mad enough to do something about it. People like Blake
Mycoskie who founded TOMS Shoes; prioritizing social justice over profitability
(and still managed to make bank). More than that though, we need people who
actually are who they say they are; people who actually have convictions and
stand up for them.

I think that in addition to critical thinking, the PLA needs
to place a strong emphasis on personal transparency. I don’t mean that we all
need to sit in a circle and share out deepest secrets but I do think that if we
want to mould ourselves into people who could make a difference, then we need
to learn to be different -and not to count our true opinions as less valuable
than the next guy’s. Only in doing this will we be able to form true
convictions and passions -and not just continue to recycle ideas in the hope
that we’ll appear smart.

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