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

RLF Recap: "In the Arena: Translating Thought Into Action as a Young Leader"

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For the second session of the Fall 2020 term of RLF, the Fellows were joined by their first guest speaker, Nate Fick ’99, whose session was titled “Into the Arena: Translating Thought to Action as a Young Leader.” Prior to the session, the Fellows were asked to read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” and a speech given at West Point by William Deresiewicz. The focus of both articles was the power and importance of solitude, in all its connotations, to leadership. Although a perhaps surprising combination, Nate began his time with the Fellows by elaborating on his personal experience with solitude and how it has benefited him in his leadership roles. Nate believes that solitude and leadership are closely related, and that solitude enables you to know yourself better, and in turn better understand others.

While sharing his career after Dartmouth, Nate pontificated on his time in the Marine Corps in particular. It was during his time in the military that he came to appreciate the critical differences between formal and informal authority. As Nate explained it, formal authority could earn him a five-minute conversation with a superior. But in battle, it was informal authority that was needed and what helped him protect the lives of the infantrymen he commanded. Nate believes he earned this informal authority by being good at his job and demonstrating every day that he cared about people he was leading. Through all the different types of organizations he has worked in, Nate has found much of his experience with authority in the military to be relevant. His work at different companies reinforced for him the importance of solitude, which can function as an opportunity to clear your mind or as a time to reflect. Either way, Nate has found that solitude allows him to maintain his own sense of purpose, which he can then filter into his leadership roles and pass on that sense of purpose to the teams he is leading.

The session gave the Fellows the opportunity to reflect on their own relationship with solitude and how this impacts their leadership and decision-making. The Fellows ended their time with Nate by considering a difficult scenario. They were given limited time to read the scenario, process it, and determine their course of action, forcing quick decision-making. In the large group, the Fellows then shared their preferred courses of action and their justifications for those decisions. After some discussion, Nate revealed that he was faced with this exact decision while serving a tour in Iraq and Afghanistan. The answers are not always clear-cut, but being a leader means making a decision anyways. Nate believes that it is solitude that can foster a courage of conviction, which in turn can empower a leader to make the difficult decisions that others cannot.

-Written by Maria Smith-Lopez, Class of 2021 Rockefeller Leadership Fellow and Student Program Assistant

As Rockefeller Leadership Fellows, seniors gain a better understanding of the qualities and responsibilities expected of leaders. As Fellows take part in the workshops, discussions, and team-building exercises, they examine their skills, qualities, and attributes as leaders and analyze how these influence teamwork and achieving goals. 

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