Leadership at MBS | October 7, 2011

Leadership at MBS

I know not everyone has read Othello, but since the seniors have just finished it, it seems appropriate to begin today's discussion of leadership with a reflection on that play. I believe you will be able to follow along even if you have not read it.

Othello is filled with leaders. We have General Othello, Lieutenant Cassio, Senator Brabantio. We have the Duke of Venice, and the Governor of Cyprus. Who in the play has the most critical moment of leadership?

Even though she does not seem to be a major character, even though she is a serving maid who has barely 200 lines compared with her villainous husband's 1000 lines, arguably Emilia is the unlikely hero and unlikely leader.

At the end of the play, it is Emilia who courageously shouts out the truth even at the risk of death. She fights for what is good and right in a room full of men who are armed and powerful and full of ire and vengeance. Emilia is at the bottom of the social strata, just ahead of Bianca the prostitute. Yet, in the moment of crisis, it is Emilia who takes command and is the catalyst for the process of setting the world right. So can a serving maid who is described by Desdemona as not talking very much and who has her own set of flaws be a leader? I am going to leave that question hanging. We are going turn for a minute to the question of leadership at Morristown-Beard. We will come back to Emilia.

Last year a committee of 58 people drafted Morristown-Beard's Strategic Plan. That's a lot of people, and that's a lot of work. This document is extremely well thought out. It is visionary. It is both grand and specific. It clearly states our plan and purpose for being here. The Strategic Plan is on our website, and I urge all of you to look at it at some point this year.

For our purposes today, I will reference one sentence from the Mission Statement section. The creators of this document write: " We believe

that a Morristown-Beard School education prepares individuals to be enlightened, morally responsible citizens of the world." I would like that statement to frame today's discussion on leadership.

" We believe that a Morristown-Beard School education prepares individuals to be enlightened, morally responsible citizens of the world."

At Morristown-Beard, we have a reputation for being nice, and that's a good thing, but I do not want to confuse being "nice" with being passive. What does it mean to be a "nice leader"? It seems almost as though it is an oxymoron. I submit that if you have compassion, and I am going to use "compassion" instead of "nice," if you truly have compassion then there are times when you must confront. Being "nice" does not mean being passive when you witness even the smallest moment of disrespect, prejudice, or racism. There are times when compassion demands confrontation.

Tolerance and passivity can be a lethal combination. When you witness a moment that demands you to stand up, do it. Compassion sometimes demands us to confront what is in front of us and what we know in our hearts is wrong.

So let us revisit Emilia. Throughout the play, we might think that Emilia has a weak moral compass. She tells Desdemona that she would cheat on her husband if she were given the world in return. She also steals Desdemona's handkerchief and then lies about it.

Yet, Emilia loves Desdemona and in the end learns from Desdemona. It is in the final scene with Desdemona, the "unpinning scene" where Emilia begins to see that there is goodness in the world. We know this because in the very next scene in which she appears, she fights for what is good and right, she fights for everything that Desdemona represents. As you seniors will remember, Emilia cries out "Twill out, 'twill out!, I peace? No, I will speak as liberal as the north."

This is a truly remarkable change of heart for a woman who has formerly had a dark view of the world, for a woman who is earlier described by Desdemona as being a woman of few words and who until that moment passively accepts the brutalities that the world dishes out.

So, what is your potential to be Emilia? To fight for what is good and right?

Through this discussion of Emilia, I hope you can see that leaders come in many different forms. Sometimes leaders are situational or context dependent, so you might not always recognize a leader when one exists before your eyes ---even if that leader is yourself.

We probably tend to see leaders as having robust styles, great physical presence, and obvious qualities of confidence and charisma, but I hope you can broaden your perception of leadership. Sometimes it is what we do in the smallest, most peripheral moments, gestures of generosity and compassion, that make us great leaders.

Now I have some questions about leadership that I want you to consider. You can think to yourselves about these questions, and in the weeks to come I hope that you will begin to work on a definition in your advisee group of what leadership means at our school.

Why are leaders not always obvious? Is leadership what you do when no one is looking? Is leadership the ability to work without public recognition? Is leadership service to the group—or not.

Is there a moral component to leadership? When we talk about leadership, do we have to put the word "good" in front of it?

What is the difference between being an inspirer and being a leader?

Can you be a leader of only yourself? If, in leading yourself, you unintentionally influence others, are you a leader without even meaning to be?

Does a leader have to have vision? Can a leader be the momentum behind someone else's vision?

Finally, what does this have to do with you as students at MBS? Why am I interested in talking about leadership? We make thousands of decisions every day. Every day we make decisions that affect us,

decisions that affect those with whom we come in contact, and decisions that affect people we do not even see.

Ultimately, I hope that Morristown-Beard School will help all of us develop the capacity to give to the greater good, to be true to ourselves, and be happy with who we are. As we become more aware of who we are and what matters to us, we are better able to stand up for what we believe is right and lead in our own distinct way.


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