Presidential Leadership Dialogues Give Students Advice from the Top

Posted: March 16, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Christopher Anzalone

Twice a semester, the Office of Leadership Education and Development’s Presidential Leadership Dialogues bring together a mix of current and emerging study body leaders from a variety of different backgrounds to interact with university President Alan Merten and hear about his personal experiences.

The program is designed to give George Mason students intimate access to Merten. The students are nominated by faculty members, staff and other student leaders, and attendance is limited to 10 to 15 students per session. The dialogues emerged from discussions within University Life’s Leadership Action Committee during the 2004-05 academic year.

Merten is a strong supporter of the dialogues and hopes to assist the participants in learning the requisite skills needed to occupy a leadership position.

“We need more people to become leaders,” he says. “There are a set of skills that a person has to acquire and practice in order to become a leader. Leadership is fun, leadership is hard. A leader faces many joys and many disappointments. Leaders are made, not born.”

Presidential Leadership Dialogues
From left, Anna Godlewski, Cathy Myers, Levent Timur, Gar Young and Whitney Jorns participated in the most recent Presidential Dialogue.
Photo by Tracey Reeves

The first dialogue was held last November and a second one was held in February. Due to scheduling conflicts, only three students who had participated in the first dialogue were able to attend the second dialogue. However, a new group of student leaders was invited to attend the latest meeting to round out attendance.

Prior to the event, students were asked to read sections of the book “Leadership without Easy Answers” by Ronald Heifetz, a faculty member at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Merten’s wife, Sally, attended the February dialogue and spoke to the students about her leadership experiences as well.

“The experience was pretty mind-broadening,” says Levent Han Timur, president of the Turkish Student Association and one of the new participants in the dialogues. “I did not really know what to expect, but President Merten was really good at handling the conversation. Listening to his ideas about how to prevent social loafing or group-think by being the ‘devil’s advocate’ added a lot to my management skills.”

Another new participant, Khulood Kandil, the current president of Students for Justice in Palestine, agrees that the dialogues were a valuable experience. “I found it very beneficial to hear President Merten’s perspective on leadership, especially when he described how to deal with criticism, which my organization regularly faces. He said the only way to avoid criticism was to avoid decision-making and implementation altogether. This statement really resonated with me.”

Kate Pisano, an accounting major, attended both the November and February dialogues. “I really enjoy hearing about some of the things President Merten has gone through to get to where he is today.

“I also really enjoy the question and answer portion. Because there are only about a dozen of us, we really get to have a great conversation with him. We are able to ask him his opinion about leadership questions we have obtained throughout our experiences as student leaders. The dialogues are a great motivator for student leaders to want to make a difference.”

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