Donaldson Fellows Share Insights on Leadership

Four Yale SOM graduates with varied and distinguished careers visited the Yale SOM campus on February 7 and 8 to share their thoughts on leadership. The Donaldson Fellows Program, named in honor of SOM's founding dean, William H. Donaldson, recognizes Yale SOM alumni whose personal and professional accomplishments embody the school's mission to educate leaders for business and society. The 2012-2013 fellows came to campus to participate in a series of events, part of SOM's Leadership Development Program (LDP), that offer students the opportunity to hear from and interact with the fellows and deepen their understanding of leadership.

The 2012-2013 Donaldson Fellows are Donald H. Gips '89, the former U.S. ambassador to South Africa; Christine Bader '00, an expert on business and human rights and a visiting scholar and lecturer at Columbia University; Nadim Matta '89, a co-managing partner at Schaffer Consulting and president of the Rapid Results Institute, a nonprofit that helps accelerate the implementation of social impact programs in developing countries; and Liang Meng '97, co-founder of the Hong Kong investment firm Ascendent Capital Management.

During their visit, the fellows participated in discussions with students and spoke at a symposium, moderated by Yale SOM Dean Edward A. Snyder, where they discussed their leadership philosophies. "These fellows are purposeful leaders," Snyder told an audience of students, faculty, and staff. "They pursue their work with great integrity."

Bader, who served on a United Nations body that drafted guiding principles to prevent human rights abuses related to business activity, advised students to speak up when they are confronted with business practices that have negative effects on a community. She also encouraged students to establish clarity in regard to their career goals and to act decisively. "I had to think about what I really wanted," she said, "and then make it happen. No one else could do that for me."

Gips also encouraged students to take charge of their careers and to be open to change. "Things don't just happen," he said. "You have to create the environment for them to happen. But when they happen, grab them. Take risks in your career; don't just stay on that one path."

Gips further advised students to establish their own ways of leading. "There is no one right leadership style," he said, adding that great leaders learn to adapt to different situations. Effective leaders are honest with themselves about their own strengths and weaknesses, and they surround themselves with people who complement their abilities, Gips said.

Matta agreed that there is no single theory of leadership. Instead, he said, effective leaders operate by performing acts of leadership that bring about specific consequences. He also emphasized that leadership is also a shared task. "This is not the purview of anybody in particular," Matta said. "This is the purview of all of us."

Meng left New Haven before the symposium because of an impending winter storm, but before departing spoke to students in a smaller session. He encouraged them to move their careers forward by establishing their excellence in their current roles while remaining open-minded and curious. Periodically assessing career goals and progress is also crucial, he said. "Every five years, it's good to take stock of things, look around, and maybe make a change."

Thomas Kolditz, professor in the practice of leadership and management and the director of the LDP, said afterwards that the Donaldson Fellows visit was a highlight of the program. "All MBA candidates at SOM are developing as leaders," Kolditz said. "Their interaction with Donaldson Fellows provides leadership role models—in this case, role models with a common history of excellence at SOM."