Michael J. Kerrigan


In his long career of service both in the military and academia, dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy Allan Stam has also learned a few things about the truth. He wants students to know the true meaning of leadership and what a valuable resource it is for the world.

Stam pointed out that outside academia there are three major areas that frequently discuss leadership and are heavily invested in it: the military, the business world and athletics. All of these groups have one major thing in common: they keep score. They tally the best use of people and resources, sales and growth, and wins and losses.

“Unfortunately, keeping score has become unfashionable in certain parts of society,” Stam said.

He noted the generational trend of shielding children and young adults from failure as much as possible, arguing that it is harmful to make everyone a winner instead of keeping a true score. He advised instead that we teach young people the true meaning of leadership.

There are all kinds of leaders, but at its core, leadership means one thing – and Stam believes that the Batten School motto says it best: “Leadership is the art of getting things done.”

“If leadership is the art of getting things done, then how should we balance our failures against our accomplishments?” he said.

He told students that there are two sides to every leader: what he or she does, and what he or she fails to do. As an example and without naming him, Stam listed the many moral and political failings of Thomas Jefferson. He then listed Jefferson’s numerous accomplishments and asked students to consider which list ultimately impacted the world more.

“To assess true leadership, you have to ask, ‘Is the world a better place for someone having existed?’” he asked, adding that in Jefferson’s case, there is no doubt that he had a lasting positive impact on the world.

He asked students to ponder that as they prepare to leave the University and go out into the world. Failures will happen, but Stam said that it’s more important to focus on what you want to accomplish and how your achievements can improve your community.

“Find a vision that inspires you,” he said. “With that in hand, help others push the rock up the hill and reach toward a better world.”

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