Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Burden of Leadership

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“It
is our responsibility to prepare students to understand that the most difficult
decisions in today’s world require the examination of all sides of an issue. It
is in the gray area that the greatest challenges reside.”

 

This statement lies at the foundation of the Leadership
Academy, but I believe that we rarely question what it’s true nature is. This
weekend I pondered what the implication of absolute truth -whether there is
actually a right answer and a wrong answer in a given situation -really is. Although
many today choose to disagree -or refuse to acknowledge -I find it all to
simple to believe an ideology that states that what is true for one person is
not necessarily true for another. For example; I believe that heroine would be
detrimental to my own health, and if asked, I would say that it would be bad
for you too. The conclusion that I came to though, is that although in any endeavor
there are a million ways to be wrong, there is only one right answer; the grey
area is only created because we aren’t wise enough to find the right way.

 

I think that we choose to remain in the grey because it is
easier than to accept that choices may really be black or white, and that we
may actually have a responsibility to choose “right” even when “wrong” may be
more convenient or satisfying for ourselves. Although I believe the statement
about grey areas to be valid, in that we operate under ambiguous decision
variables, our mistake is in believing that because our circumstances are
vague, so must our response to them be. As leaders, it is up to us to discern
good from evil -right from wrong -and respond by sacrificing our own position
to make right from grey. Grey areas exist because leaders stand idle to the
real problem; the burden of leadership is restlessness in the pursuit of truth.

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Leadership Essay Series: Abrasiveness

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What
role do you think personality plays in leadership? Please give examples.

 

This week I met with a
representative from Teach for America. For those of you who aren’t familiar
with the organization, Teach for America sends teachers into schools whose
students live below the poverty line. It’s a great program, but something the
representative told me didn’t sit well with me. He was explaining the
recruitment and training process that corps members go through, and he told me
that they are unable to train leadership -that people are either leaders or
they aren’t -so they recruit people who have held prominent positions at their
universities, and train them in education methods to teach kids from low income
families. What I disagree with is that I think the whole concept of proper
educating hinges on the belief that leadership can be taught. If you think
about it -despite all that you may have be conditioned by standardized tests
and the multitude of scantrons which you have inevitably filled out here at
Penn State -if you really think about it, good education teaches students to be
critical thinkers, and improper “education” conditions students to be drones.

 

Example: when you were a
junior in High School and you were preparing for the SAT, did you decide to
simply apply yourself more in school, or did you purchase the Kaplan textbooks
which taught you exactly how to most efficiently complete the test? Paying more
attention in school would teach you to think critically about the material
you’re confronted with, and thus be able to create your own opinions and even
counter arguments to the content, but test taking seminars will only teach you
to find the answer which is expected of you. Granted, I grew up without
scantrons and standardized tests, and as a result think that they’re absurd,
but I invite you to humor me here for the next few paragraphs of this essay.

 

My point is this: leadership
is not acquired, and the only connection to personality that I am confident that
is has is whether a person is of an active mind, and not a passive one. My
argument hinges on the assumption that the status quo of our world today is
everything but perfect, and requires men and women in every culture to be
active agents of change in their communities if we are ever to progress. If you
look at history, time and time again when unjust leaders have assumed power,
they have done so by conditioning the public to see only one valid argument. It
works; it worked with the Nazis, it worked with Communist China, it worked for
Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Passiveness can be conditioned, and leadership can be
inspired.

 

Personality obviously plays
a role in leadership syle, but frankly if good leadership means leading justly,
consistently, and serving those who put you into leadership, then does it
really matter whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert? If the goal is
reached -given proper conduct -then what real consequence is the route taken?
It is for this reason that I argue that the only personality trait that is of
true consequence is abrasiveness. I believe that the world is a very dark and
sickly place, and it takes abrasive men and women to stand up for justice. MLK,
Ghandi, Mandela, Bonhoeffer, Calvin, Wilburforce -all of these men, though very
different personalities, had one thing in common: their disillusionment by the
status quo, and their conviction to speak against it.

 

I think that we often
confine leadership to the broader, political, business, science public
position, but I believe that we’re missing the point if we fail to recognize
the need for leadership to begin at the most ordinary level; the people right
here around us. How do we handle personal disputes, family matters, friends of
ours who appear alcoholic at times. How can our ordinary reactions give insight
into our leadership? Because if we really are leaders -good ones -then we will
inevitably seek to influence those around us for the better. What good is a
representative if he creates a thousand jobs for his constituents if he cheats
on his wife or if he abuses his children? Has he actually made the world a
better place? Good leadership begins at the bottom, and maybe makes its way up
to the top eventually, but only by being consistently abrasive to the status
quo. I am not writing of how to win friends and influence people, but rather of
the leadership that the world actually needs. We don’t need politicians with
empty promises or business leaders who care about nothing more than their
position or their compensation. As far as I’m concerned, you can win the world
easily, but true leadership shows itself in the leader’s restlessness for the
pursuit of justice.

Did Steve Jobs Really Change the World?

I’d like to recall a discussion that the seniors had in
class a few weeks ago. Exactly how the conversation developed, I can’t
remember, but it culminated in a dialogue between Dean Brady a student about
the degree to which one’s ideology of a career transforms when children enter
the picture. The student was quite adamant that for him, career will always
come first -an ideology which I personally believe will inevitably lead to
dissatisfaction, though I do hope to love my career too -but I would like to make
a case for a quite opposite outlook on life: that our careers will inevitably
fail to actualize the false expectations that we eager college seniors assign
to them.

 

I make this statement in light of the recent death of a man
who shared that same conviction. In 2003, Steve Jobs discussed his
accomplishments with Wired Magazine, where he explained that he work never
really changed the world.

 

Wired:
“What’s the biggest surprise this technology will deliver?”

 

Jobs: “The problem is
I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It
really doesn’t.”

 

Wired: “That’s going
to break people’s hearts.”

 

Jobs: “I’m sorry, it’s
true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we
live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time.
Technology is not changing it much — if at all.

These technologies can make life
easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child
with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support
groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things
can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that. But it’s a disservice
to constantly put things in this radical new light — that it’s going to change
everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

 

So I ask you this question: if Steve Jobs believed that he
-and all that he did to advance communications and technology, and even art
-did not in fact change the world, then how are we to respond?

 

·     
Downplay his words as humility, and believe that
he did in fact change the world?

·     
Ask ourselves, if Apple and Pixar couldn’t
change the world even remotely, then what does change the world?

·     
Or do we pose the question whether human beings
really can change the nature of the world: love, joy, peace, war, hate,
slavery, human interaction, jealousy, deceit, laughter, humor, beauty.

 

I ask this: maybe we can. Only maybe. But, given the state
of the world today -war (which never seems to end), poverty (where there is
greater inequality of wealth today than ever before), slavery (where there are
more slaves today than ever before in history) -if mankind can really change
the world, in all of our efforts, do we inevitably screw it up more and more
every year, and was the world (not
just your world) a better place 200,
800, 1500, 4000 years ago? My question is not whether there are men and women
out there -like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or William Wilberforce
-who have changed the world for the better; rather my question is whether the
global trend of social movement across history had been progress or decline?

The (career) Fair

This past week I have reflected much on what it means to remain an individual in a workplace of potential homogony. Between organizing the career fair, a conversation I had with a friend of mine, attending the career fair, and having 3 interviews, I have yet to arrive at a conclusion. Though I now understand three things:

I am an individual

There are jobs I would hate, and there are a few that I would enjoy

Happiness doens’t come for circumstance.

If you have the time, read this article.

HOW_TO_CHASE_YOUR_DREAM_JOB_WITHOUT_QUITTING_YOUR_DAY_JOB.docx

 

-Harry