Opinion

Q8 Alumni Forum

Yale SOM alumni weigh in on the question "Who needs leaders?"


Who Needs Leaders?

Steve Carples ’81

We all need leaders to help focus our spiritual, professional, and social lives. Leaders play an essential role in defining, communicating, and galvanizing the collective consciousness of an organization or community. In turn, this collective consciousness serves to inspire action, motivate commitment, and focus a group’s energies on the accomplishment of mutually beneficial goals.

In today’s quickly evolving society, marked by unlimited instant access to knowledge and opinions on virtually any topic, individuals can be more independent in how they make an impact on the world. Still, it’s undeniable that focused collaboration results in more diverse perspectives on issues and an enhanced richness in terms of innovation and work product.

Leadership today is exhibited in many different ways. In virtual communities, credible thought leaders educate, provoke, and rally like-minded individuals to promote critical ideas. In corporate environments, leadership is provided by project managers, high-performance peers, and senior managers who intuitively understand that individuals aspire to make a positive impact on their world through the products and services they help provide. Great leaders understand that it isn’t profits or the end result that trumps everything else—instead, it’s about addressing pressing and emerging needs and doing it the right way, while ensuring the welfare of all in the organization, that counts most.

Leadership is even more critical in not-for-profit organizations that are highly dependent upon volunteers and philanthropic contributions to fulfill their missions. Diverse agendas, individual egos, strong passions, and heart-wrenching calls for help can easily divert the efforts of these organizations. Strong leadership ensures forward progress, integrity, and the most efficient deployment of highly limited resources.

Is leadership underappreciated? In many ways, yes. Effective leaders can be taken for granted. Inspirational leaders, especially in today’s political arena, are oftentimes challenged by contrarians who are more interested in expressing their opinions than in working together for the common good. But without leadership, organizations and communities will devolve, stagnate, and continue to waste precious resources. Who needs leaders? We all do!

 

Rob Greenly ’83
I provide executive coaching to physicians who have decided to go from a clinical practice to a corporate setting. They enter a company thinking that what led to their success as a practicing doc also will work in the company. As a clinician they were successful when they reached a quick diagnosis and gave orders for others (patient or nurse) to carry out. That approach doesn’t work so well in a corporate setting.
 
Co-workers will not carry out orders just because the doc believes he/she is the smartest person in the room and has decided. Co-workers want to know that their view of the situation is being considered. They want someone who understands where the team as a whole needs to go and who will help everyone get there. They don’t want or need someone who thinks he or she can do it all. They need a leader.

 

Ann Olivarius ’86

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”—Winston Churchill

From 1992 until 1996 I served as the president, general counsel, and director of scientific programs of the Stanley J. Sarnoff Endowment for Cardiovascular Science. While my time at the endowment represents perhaps the most testing leadership experience I have faced thus far, it has also proven to be one of the most rewarding.

Before Stanley Sarnoff’s death in 1990, he had arranged for his philanthropic legacy to continue in the form of an endowment; yet soon after his death, the endowment became embroiled in an internecine legal battle, its assets held in limbo by Sarnoff’s executor. There was a very real chance the organization would end up with sharply reduced funds, or be dissolved into another charity.

Logically, this would have been a good time to hunker down—cut expenses, weather the legal storms, make do, and muddle through. Instead I made it my goal to transform the promising but somewhat stagnant Sarnoff Fellows Program into a force to be reckoned within the cardiovascular science community, and the jewel of the endowment that it is today.

The endowment felt some growing pains in the early 1990s as I nudged the board culture from old boys club to more serious, and then esteemed, science organization. I opened its first office and encouraged improved performance from employees and trustees. But my most crucial initiative was to advance the Sarnoff Fellows Program, the endowment’s charitable core. I allocated a bigger piece of the endowment’s (regularly threatened) budget in order to accept more and better candidates and pay them better. I worked to broaden the applicant pool—and between 1994 to 1995 produced a 300% rise in applications. I pressed for the annual meetings to focus more on science, ultimately qualifying them for continuing medical education credit.

I also developed the intangible facets of the Sarnoff fellowship, like opening my home and rolodex to the fellows. I put them in touch with top researchers and secured their attendance at various high-level scientific gatherings. I established meetings for them to share their scientific interests and personal concerns.

In all of this, I drew significantly on my connections from Yale (YC ’77, YLS ’86, SOM ’86). For making sense of the endowment’s legal maelstrom, I turned to professors (including Charles L. Black Jr.) and alumni from Yale Law—often free of charge, without recognition or résumé boost. They responded to my determination to secure money for heart science, and were glad to help.

SOM contacts pitched in with guidance on managing the charity. Dr. Martha Miller, former associate dean, was particularly generous. Soon after joining the endowment, I found myself pummeled by legal attacks on one side and pushback against my reforms on the other. But Miller sat down with me and offered practical organizational behavior suggestions. Later she gave a free training session to the fellows, and arranged for others to do further ones at minimal cost. Rosa Green ’86 provided financial analyses used in the legal fight. Allen Flores ’89, former director of computer services, helped identify possible purchasers for the company the endowment beneficially owned.

Dogged by legal battles and internal strife throughout, my four years on the Sarnoff Endowment were often unglamorous, thankless, even harrowing—in fact, its toxic internal politics got me ousted in the end, after I had turned down more lucrative jobs in order to stick with an organization and people I felt it was my duty to support. Even so, I emerged richer for it. The relationships I revisited and strengthened then have formed a major part of my life and career since.

The fruits of my labor? Where the Sarnoff Endowment and Fellowship Program were once besieged, they have turned a corner and now continue to grow and flourish.

 

Peter Kassen ’88

Who needs leaders? Sheep.

 

Mary Allen Gorham ’88

Leadership and Being “Insanely Busy”

Recently, my Yale SOM classmates and I received an email solicitation for class notes from our beloved class secretaries entitled, “We know you are insanely busy.” Instead of replying only to our class secretaries, about 65 people hit “Reply all” and a spontaneous online class reunion took place, with personal updates, hilarious commentary, and precious wisdom. For a rare week, our “insane busy-ness” was punctuated with delightful pauses.

But most of the time, while balancing ever increasing work responsibilities, efforts to be more efficient and create more impact and more income, deal with more messages from blackberries, iPhones, Twitter, e-mail, TV, Internet, and social networking sites—all while trying to be good parents to our children and tend to our own aging parents—the fact is, most of our lives have become “insanely busy.” So what is really going on here? What is the price we are paying? And what, as leaders, can we do about it?

Root causes

Driving our behavior is an invisible set of assumptions about what is good, what is possible, and what will make us happy. This is our “operating system.” As Lynne Twist in The Soul of Money has pointed out, for most professionals in America, three of our biggest and unquestioned underlying assumptions are: 1) “There’s not enough” (money, time, business deals, vacation getaways, etc. etc.) and therefore 2) “more is better” and 3) “that’s just the way it is.” Underneath these assumptions are other nagging assumptions that maybe we ourselves are “not enough” in a lonely, competitive world.

Consequences

When we believe these things, it can be tempting to simply try harder, adding more and more to our plates, like hamsters on a tread wheel. One of the side effects of this is that we can start to see other people not for their humanity, but for their usefulness in helping us get what we want. Over time, our relationships suffer, and we feel overwhelmed and exhausted, and wonder how much longer we can sustain this trajectory.

What Can We Do About It?

As leaders, we can address this situation in three powerful ways:

Examine our own assumptions. Some questions we might ask ourselves include: What do we believe is “true” as we seek to drive our agenda in the world? What are the unintended consequences of our assumptions? If those consequences do not serve us well, what other assumptions might we wish to affirm?

Limit the activities that are based on unsustainable assumptions. Once we know what is driving us personally, organizationally, and as a society in a direction which is not sustainable, we can consciously choose to do less of those things. For example, if we find that the assumption of “more is better” is exhausting us, we can choose to say “no” up front to more of the ever expanding set of opportunities available to us before commitments and expectations are set. By doing so, we affirm other assumptions, such as, in this case, the assumption that what’s optimal and balanced is better.

Do more of what counts. Finally, we can step up the roles, habits, activities, structures, and events that powerfully and authentically connect us to each other, remind us of our common condition, and realign us where we are stuck. This can be anything from grandiose Mideast peace talks, to healthy communication practices in our workplaces, to a humble, online, zero carbon footprint reunion with one’s SOM classmates. When we do, we can move beyond being “insanely busy” and barely surviving, to instead, being in balance and thriving.

 

Sara J. Hebert ’98
The CEO in All of Us

Have you set the vision and values by which you lead your personal life? Do your choices and actions draw the picture you wish to represent your time in this world? As a parent and transformational coach, too often I see leadership of the personal life usurped, undervalued, or even worse, completely absent. But what’s the big deal about being a leader in my personal life? How much impact can leading at this level really have? Surely, you surmise, “My leadership in the business world or community is far more important.”

Leaders take a stand. They voice their opinion and devote energy to issues and activities they deem valuable. An outstanding CEO articulates her top three corporate priorities without hesitation. As the CEO of your life, can you quickly and concisely list your top three priorities? (Or your top priority for that matter?) If you don’t have your personal, life priorities established, what criteria do you use to make everyday choices? I can hear parents now saying, “My family is top priority.” If that’s the case, do both parents work full-time jobs while another leader raises the family five days a week? Perhaps your top priority is sharing your personal abilities or maintaining a desired standard of living—terrific. If personal health is a top priority—so you’ll be alive and healthy as your children are growing—why does the TV get more use than your sneakers?

When you have your values and priorities clearly at heart, then your actions as CEO of your life become very powerful. You may in fact be leading a team of two as a mother, but how you lead and what you pass along to your family will carry on for decades. You may be an entrepreneur, teacher, or city commissioner and share your unique talents daily with various constituents—creating far more than a transaction and instead offering the gift of your personal interest and passion. So who needs leaders? Every person, in their individual life, needs a leader—themselves.