"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each": a quote from the speech that John F. Kennedy prepared for delivery in Dallas, that day in 1963.
I cannot agree more with this statement made by one of the most instantly recognisable leaders of our times. There has been a lot of talk about whether leadership is an innate or an acquired ability, a debate that I am not going to get into here. I will leave to biologists to discover the gene responsible for leadership skills. Following on in the spirit of JFK´s thoughts on learning, I would rather briefly talk about the importance given to learning and education by business leaders.
Today, it is almost inconceivable that leaders have arrived at their position, without the resilience for the necessary strenuous preparation, nor without the dedication to maintain and improve it. Leaders seem increasingly eager to update their perspective on society and business and to anticipate what comes ahead. It is part of their role. This in turn requires a constant striving for learning new things and adapting themselves to the permanent change experienced in every industry. I am frequently able to confirm this at our school, during the monthly meeting of CEOs of major corporations based in Spain, in a programme called "Leadership Forum."
The purpose of the programme is to discuss matters of current interest with one of our professors or other foreign personalities. Every time I attend, I am impressed at the preparation of the participant CEOs, in terms of their knowledge of management concepts and the detailed information they handle. After meeting the protagonists themselves, I have come to realise that they devote considerable time to study and to continuous learning. I used to have the view that managers, particularly the ones at the top, were more people of action rather than of reflection.
Given that CEOs are the Olympians of business leaders, it would be interesting to explore how much time they devote to study, in order to see if I am right. Again, if we look at the diaries of top executives published in papers and magazines, we see their long work-days of 17 hours filled almost solely with meetings. But what is not apparent in those diaries is the time they dedicate in preparing those meetings and amplifying their knowledge. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with George Soros, another undisputed contemporary leader. From our conversation I became aware of just how much time he devotes to reading and dealing with academics. However, Soros may not be a good example to prove my theory about the studiousness of managers, as he is an academic himself as well. Diverse studies show that managers do actually employ a substantial part of their busy agendas reading and studying. Some of those studies point out that one of the reasons for them to read is as a relief from the solitude of being at the top, something that reminds me of the celebrated quote of C.S. Lewis: "we read to learn that we are not alone".
Certainly, leadership is not only about chance or luck. It is not just a matter of having innate leadership skills and taking the command when the opportunity arises. Business schools educators have an important function here: to help potential leaders rethink their basic assumptions and enlarge their vision of the future. Having this in mind, I ponder about the flipside meaning of JFK’s aforementioned quote i.e., that leadership is indispensable to learning. Would it be that educators need to have some certain leadership skills?
(George Soros talking with Santiago Iñiguez at IE´s Business Leadership Forum)