www.SantiagoIniguez.com, Dean of IE Business SchoolJfk

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

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." (next on 3rd March, 2008).

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?


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