It was standing room only yesterday as over 100 people packed themselves into William L. Harkness Hall to listen to the second in a series of lectures by David Gergen ’63.
Gergen — a former adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, and currently an editor-at-large for U.S. News and World Report — spoke on the topic of how to develop the next generation of leaders. Drawing primarily on his White House experience, Gergen used historical examples as lessons in leadership.
Gergen emphasized the important characteristics every great leader must develop, and said it is important for students to begin working on these skills now.
Intellectual curiosity is vital to good leadership, Gergen said, although many great leaders did not excel in school.
“Great leaders may not shine during their formal educations, but sometime in their lives, their minds catch fire,” he said.
One of the most important things young adults can do to prepare themselves for leadership, Gergen said, is to read widely, especially histories and biographies.
But there is more to leadership than intelligence, Gergen pointed out.
“I thought that people with sloppy words and thoughts usually make disorganized leaders,” he said. “That’s what I believed. Then I went to work for Richard Nixon. He was the best strategic mind this country had seen since Eisenhower.”
By contrast, Gergen said, Clinton had one of the most intelligent and capable political minds of our time, but that alone was not enough for him to achieve greatness in office.
Clinton had “360-degree thinking,” Gergen said, “but he lacked something equally important: a true north, direction in personal and political life — Working with Clinton, I came to the conclusion that capacity is important; character is essential.”
Addressing the students in the audience, Gergen said, “Your generation could be the one that matches the greatest generations of the past.”
In addition to becoming well-read, students interested in leadership should give back to others through service, develop compassion, and achieve self-understanding and self-mastery, Gergen said.
Melissa Lau ’02 said she was very impressed by Gergen’s lecture, especially its relevance to the Yale community.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric at Yale about what Yale’s role should be. He made it clear that its role should be creating leaders and examining the issues of what those leaders should be. He addressed those ideas eloquently.”
Lau, however, criticized the lack of publicity for the lecture series. Despite the large crowd, not many students were in attendance; the audience was composed primarily of senior citizens, whose questions were about Gergen’s experience working with presidents, not on how to develop leadership in the younger generation.