Leadership discussion shares Homecoming stage

By Wayne Newton
September 30, 2013

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Is there a quiet revolution in leadership? Maybe, according to professor Joel Faflak, director of Western’s new School for Advanced Studies in the Arts & Humanities.

Faflak was part of a six-person panel discussion on the Cultures of Leadership held Sunday morning in the Paul Davenport Theatre, as part of the university’s Homecoming celebration.

“Usually we think of extroverts as leaders.” Faflak said, “but the quiet student has a different quality that intrigues me more.”

A self-described ‘quiet leader’ himself, Faflak cautioned people not to assume the loudest person in the room has the best leadership skills for organizations and governments.

“(Extroverts) have the automatic disposition to be out in the world. It’s the other person who is reluctant, if I could put it that way, who will make a good leader,” he said following the 90-minute discussion. “Out of that reluctance comes a kind of capacity to think through the complexity of the situation that an extrovert doesn’t always think to do in the first place.

“Through the process of having to force yourself out of that interior world into the outside, you strengthen your leadership skills and hone them in a certain kind of way and because you’re reluctant, you’re always second guessing yourself at some level and that actually makes the most profound kind of leader.”

Perhaps ironically, Faflak’s courses focus on failures in leadership rather than successes by studying works such as King Lear and the Great Gatsby because from failure can come some of life’s – and leadership’s – most important lessons.

Canadians, more than Americans, recognize and reward the leadership style and abilities of those who might prefer to stay in the background. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, not known for being the glad-hander one might expect in politics, and former prime minister Jean Chretien, who led despite a speech problem, were cited as two examples by moderator Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC Radio’s The Current.

Betty Anne Younker, Don Wright Faculty of Music dean, said passion and recognizing the strength of others are two of the keys for successful leadership, along with vision and the ability to balance the skills of knowing when to stand firm and when to admit they cannot always be right.

It’s the passion for a task or a profession and the interchangeability of leadership roles the music facility witnesses and encourages among its students, she added.

Developing leadership skills in young people starts years before they arrive at Western, said professor Pam Bishop, associate dean at the Faculty of Education.

She said it starts in kindergarten and develops over 20 years in social and academic settings until finally, after trials and errors, abilities and talents blossom.

“Leadership is about learning about yourself,” she said.

Professors can play a pivotal role in recognizing and nurturing leadership potential in their students, no matter what the faculty, by emphasizing what Faculty of Information and Media Studies professor Sandra Smeltzer called the 3Cs of leadership – caring, conscientious and critical.

Many students arrive at Western seeking leadership role models beyond popular celebrities and turn to professors to fill that need, Smeltzer said. A big part of being a successful role model is not to provide the answers, but to ask the questions and be patient when attempts at leadership fail or ideas fall flat.

“You don’t have to have it altogether, especially when you’re 18,” she said.

Equally important is the development of so-called soft skills needed to solve problems when working with broadly skilled teams, added professor Mike Bartlett. For students in the Faculty of Engineering, for example, that can mean an understanding of psychology along with the more obvious mathematics.

Professor Mitchell Rothstein, Department of Management and Organizational Studies, put the learning of leadership skills in military terms, emphasizing a clear chain of command and one’s role in it.

“Good leaders,” he said, “first learn to follow.”

This was the second Homecoming in which Western’s role in shaping a new generation of leadership was the subject of a special panel involving faculty members from across the campus.

The topic has strong interest among alumni, who recognize the need for and opportunities for fresh leadership ideas and perspectives in all areas from business to international justice and politics, the forum was told.

“There is no inside and outside world,” Tremonti said. “It’s all one in which students are taught to think.”


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