Leadership and Education: friends & The American Scholar

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

The week between holidays is a pleasant, perhaps, even a charming one for me. This sensation may have begun with one that I spent on Saipan and Guam in 1978. Probably being 26 years old had something to do with such foundation.


Once that the bustle of Christmas is past, I reflexively consider what occurred this year and what I’d like to see occur and reoccur next year. The feeling is not about resolutions; it’s more of a sense that my life or the time of my life is being reloaded or refilled as in ‘here’s another 12 months divided into four seasons punctuated by several holidays and anniversaries including birthdays.’ I look forward to tennis season, our spring break vacation, the end of school, the July 4th picnic, my birthday, the fall and the march to the end of the year. So little of my anticipated fun and joy revolves around my profession even though I enjoy and appreciate the nature and benefits of my work. Alas, it’s called work for a reason.

Over the holidays, we’re visited by friends whom we knew as children. The pleasure of these associations is that one can be a part of their lives without the worry for their lives. Kind of like faux grandparents. Does one ever stop worrying about the future of one’s own children or the nature of the relationship that one has with our children? Through these 3 or 4 extended relationships am I able to see a little clearer myself as a person, a parent and an incomplete being. I offer like gratitude to friends a little older than these of college age. These are the ones who develop iPhone apps for Tessa or who serve in the Navy and are stationed in the area. As they prepare for their first careers after the service or adopt the pregnancy and parenting responsibilities, I observe how little choice that we genuinely have in our lives. Of course, we’re all fantastically fortunate to be born Americans and we really have a lot less choice about the course of our lives that we imagine or are led to presume. This notion can be comforting.

I was drawn to these essays recommended by David Brooks because they address the predicaments of these two groups of my friends: those in and about to finish their formal educations, including my elder son, and those who are about to conclude their naval service and are interested in how their leadership training will apply to the civilian sector that they are about to join. Some have prints in both camps as they are instructors at the large, perhaps even elite universities in our area.

I perceive an urgent need (join the club, you say) for fundamental change in how we manage our communities and environments. I am mystified as to how this could occur with any sort of pace and purpose in any frame of reference resembling a lifetime. So, I am drawn to thinking about leadership and education particularly when the examples touch on my own experiences. Mr. Deresiewicz’s essays attract me in both of these areas. Reprinted is what I told my friends about them. I recommend them to you.


Hope that the holiday stand-down serves you well. Amidst the snow and calm, I read several of the essays recommended recently by David Brooks in the NY Times in his annual Sidney Awards. And the more recent essay lead me to another by the same writer, William Deresiewicz, and both relate to our own Academy educations and to the teaching responsibilities that several of you have or still enjoy.

The essay on Solitude & Leadership was delivered in a speech at West Point, aka our Military Academy, in late 2009 and reformed as a written piece in the past spring. In my work, I often speak with clients about the business value of social media and what sorts of leaders are required as technology diffuses their familiar command and control structures. For example, in 2000, the manager was the employee’s #1 source of information. In 2009, the manager fell to 6 of 10 with peer networks, internal and external, assuming the top spot. I enjoy speculating about the positive potential of new technologies as I hope that Playstation is helping our 15 year old more than it harms him and observe from my perch in the home office that way too many of my friends and colleagues have too little time for expressed needs and interests, including health, community and their professions. Some days, I wonder if a stagnant economy affording less for the group may not have positive, unintended benefit for the individual (remind me about this statement if I am laid off). I pass this along as I find atypical the conjunction of WD’s principal themes.

Being impressed with the S&L essay, I found one that WD wrote in the fall of 2008 just prior to the Bust of ’08 on the Disadvantages of an Elite Education. Living in an super-charged educationally elite community (my benchmark is that we know or are acquainted with seven couples, both spouses of which are MDs! Neither of us is a doc nor do we really revolve in such circles), I sometimes wonder how Academy grads and Duke grads – or similar – compare in their capabilities to lead our nation in whatever may be their chosen professional fields. Maybe my curiosity is the equivalent of the recurring question ‘does the nation really need academies of any sort i.e. Naval, Military or Fuqua, or do less specialized programs produce equal benefit at reduced cost?’

As you have experience with each of his essay topics, I pass along.



Hope to see you often in 2011.