September 18, 2007

LeaderQuest Retreat, 9-14 to 9-16, 2007

I think we all learned a lot from last weekend's retreat. I for one know that I took a lot away from many of the activities we did. We had a fantastic discussion around the question "What is Leadership?" that I hope we will continue the rest of the semester.

We began the discussion with leadership mad-libs. Leadership is like a __adjective__ ___noun___. Some answers were:

  • flushed toiled
  • loose leash
  • neverending journey
  • helping hand
  • tour guide

Using these mad-libs as a guide, small groups formed and performed leadership skits centered around these topics.

From there, we moved to a discussion of leaders, leadership quotes or issues involving leadership. Specifically, the ones we discussed were:

  • "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." - Dwight Eisenhower
  • "Consensus is the negation of leadership" - Margaret Thatcher
  • "The most important belief we acquire is the belief in ourselves and the most important belief we transfer is belief in others." - Given to LeaderQuest by John Speer
  • Bill Gates
  • Mother Teresa
  • The War in Iraq

Discussing these items led to a lot of questions:

  • Does a person have to be wealthy in order to be a leader? Do they need to be visible to be important?
  • If we do not like the idea of consensus (which most of the group did not)
  • What role ought the U.S. to play in Iraq? What role do we as individuals and as leaders have in shaping U.S. policy in Iraq? Is voting the end of our responsibility?
  • How do we resolve conflicts in which we hold two competing values, like the conflict between multiculturalism and feminism or secularism and the right to religious beliefs?

A favorite quote of mine in relation to this issue is "The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality" -- Max dePree, CEO. I think Mr. dePree makes a good point: How can we lead unless we can define the reality around us? If we cannot answer these difficult questions, it is very difficult to lead responsibly: What is good? What is evil? What is justice? What are our moral obligations? What is meaning? What is happiness? If we cannot answer these questions for ourselves, we will be left incapacitated in the face of difficult decisions we will eventually have to make.

We also questioned the perceptions we hold of others. Mother Teresa was a person that most of us hold in very high esteem. Yet, there have been a lot of questions about the "goodness" of the work that she actually did. One such questioner, Christopher Hitchens, actually wrote a book on the topic called The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.

There are many other interesting resources in relation to leadership and making decisions. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, a book written by Malcom Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, is a book about the way in which we make decisions. The book Leading Through Conflict by Mark Gerzon discusses how to make effective decisions in a world full of conflict.

Anne Phillips helps us adopt a new look on the debate of multiculturalism versus feminism in the book Multiculturalism without Culture. She gives a great example of how we can step outside of our current paradigms and analyze conflict in a way that brings both sides together rather than divides them further apart.

Participants were also interested in learning how to do more to effect the world around them. Although I hope that LeaderQuest provides a venue in which to learn about this, there are other places that participants can look for this information such as the The November 5th Coalition and Public Achievement.

For inspiration this week, I look to a web site called which follows the principles of microfinancing created by Muhammed Yunus in order to provide micro-loans to entrepreneurs around the world in an effort to eradicate poverty.

Additionally, I came across a fantastic book called Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize Winning Economist. The book changes the paradigm from economic development to development that considers:

  • Development is the expansion of capabilities... having the freedom to choose between different ways of thinking.
  • Enrichment of humans lives.
  • Being able to choose how you want to live.

LeaderQuesters on Purpose, 9-12-2007

To begin what I am sure will be a series of stimulating and powerful discussions in LeaderQuest this year, Laurie Blank, the LeaderQuest Coordinator, posed the question, "What is purpose?" Students broke into smaller groups to discuss the question further. Some of their responses were:

  • Purpose is the bigger picture, what you believe you can do when you wake up in the morning
  • Purpose is the foundation which can be built upon
  • Purpose is the meaning of its [some object or being's] existence
  • Purpose is a drive to get something accomplished

At the end of our discussion Wednesday, we were left with several important questions that are worth revisiting:

  • What does it mean to be meaningful?
  • Is there such thing as a "good" or "bad" purpose? If so, how do we differentiate between the two? If not, how do we judge actions to be good or evil?
  • What is the value of discussing purpose? Alternatively, what can we do with a definition of purpose?

Many great philosophers, thinkers and leaders have thought extensively about these problems. Albert Camus' book The Myth of Sisyphus addresses the question of meaning in life. Modern day philosophers like Peter Singer (who came and spoke at the U a couple of years ago) writes very accessibly about morals and how we might come to conclusions of what is morally good or bad.

In deciding what we believe, it helps to look at these problems from different perspectives. A great novel that really gets at the idea of perspective is The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.

As we begin to explore questions like: "What is purpose?" we will start to see that answers are not so easy to come by. Why is it so difficult to find answers to these questions? Why might it be valuable to ask these questions?

Participants can also reflect on questions such as: Who are the “leaders� in the room? Were there people that dominated conversation? People that didn’t speak much at all? Why is this? Is it a problem? Is it something we should address? If so, how? What role do the people that don't speak play? What role should they play?

To get even more out of LeaderQuest, I would challenge students to keep a daily journal as they explore these questions. Journaling helps to learn and relearn from our experiences. We are able to remember and recall more of what we learn and we are better able to formulate our thoughts and ideas. For those that are interested in public speaking, journaling is an excellent way in which to become more articulate about your thoughts, ideas and convictions.