The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Lessons of Leadership with Phil Hanlon '77

President Phil Hanlon '77 spoke to the fellows about the importance of a balance in leadership style between emotionally and rationally driven approaches (photo by Sally Kim)

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On January 21st, President of the College Phil Hanlon '77 joined the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows meeting to lead a session on Lessons of Leadership.  The session took the format of a lecture, and President Hanlon presented to the fellows ten concrete lessons that he learned about leadership throughout his experiences working at institutions of higher education, both as a professor and an administrator.  The tips he gave, however, were meant to be generally applicable to all types of leadership positions. 

Some people would argue that the qualities that make a consummate leader are vision, charisma and ability to motivate.  However, Hanlon argued that those things mean nothing if a leader lacks the ability to plan, execute, and think strategically about his or her cause.  Thus his first lesson on leadership: “We select leaders who can think on their feet. We should select leaders who can think on their ass.”  That of the ‘spiritual’ leader may be the most appealing style, but CEOs are the leaders that actually get things done. 

Hanlon spoke to the fellows about the importance of a balance in leadership style between emotionally and rationally driven approaches – ‘mammal or reptile’, as he called it.  He stressed that either characteristic in excess could prove detrimental, and it is important for a leader to be mindful of employing the right amount of both in his or her decisions and interactions. 

Hanlon also spoke on the importance of a leader’s commitment to advancing the core values of the organization.  Three of his ten lessons addressed that commitment in some way: the first piece of advice was to “check your values at the door”.  President Hanlon conveyed to the fellows the imperative nature of a leader’s commitment to advancing the values of the organization over his or her own personal values.   In that vein, the commitment to core values was echoed again in his 9th piece of advice: “only the leader can look out for the big picture and the long term”.  Despite short-term consequences, it is a leader’s responsibility to always be forward-thinking and facing in terms of how a company can most effectively stick to its values and accomplish its mission long-term.   His last piece of advice – “never trust a flip-flopper”- translated to this: leaders should constantly be reconsidering their tactics in terms of how to best achieve their companies’ mission, but inconsistencies in vision or in commitment to the core values are red flags. 

“Ten Lessons on Leadership” gave the fellows pieces of applicable and actionable leadership advice that will serve us well when applied to our current leadership positions and definitely when moving forward into the working world. 

Submitted by Jordyn Turner, Rockefeller Leadership Fellow

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