Former Vice President Al Gore Shares Three Touchstones of Great Leadership with Barowsky MBAs

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In an intimate setting in the Guzman Lecture Hall on Tuesday, November 7, Sam Beldona, Dean of the Barowsky School of Business, welcomed former Vice President Al Gore and an audience of over 100 excited students and guests. Mr. Gore addressed the audience, not only as a former White House official, Academy Award winner, Nobel Laureate, and well-known climate activist, but also as their teacher. Gore is one of a group of high-profile leaders who is guest lecturing in the MBA course module titled “CEO of the Field – Coaching Your Business to Success,” led by mother-son duo Dr. Beth Seidenberg and Sammy Vogel-Seidenberg. Dr. Seidenberg is a General Partner at Kleiner Perkins. Sammy Vogel-Seidenberg is the Head Coach of the men’s lacrosse team at Dominican University of California. Along with Professors Jacob Massoud and Tommy Cavanagh, Dr. Seidenberg and Coach Vogel-Seidenberg are helping Barowsky MBA students to develop into effective leaders in organizations by building teams with an edge.

Despite Mr. Gore’s commendable personal arc in leadership positions, he humbly noted that he did not think of himself as an expert on the subject.

“Let me tell you a little bit about what I think I’ve learned about leadership. Really and truly I do not want to pose as an expert on leadership. I’m definitely not. I’ve learned some things and they’ve served me well,” Mr. Gore said.

 He reflected that many of his insights derived from time spent working on a specific project called Reinventing Government, during his tenure as Vice President. For the project, Gore traveled around the country meeting with CEOs from top companies, observing and asking a lot of questions, taking what he called a “crash course in leadership.” His experiences and lessons learned shaped his perspective and insight on effective leadership.

Mr. Gore’s talk opened with a quote from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “of the very best leaders, the people will say, we did this ourselves.” A powerful insight, he noted, and then proceeded using a blend of storytelling and metaphors, to individually highlight his three principal touchstones of great leadership: vision, values, and goals.

“Vision is uniquely the province of the leader of the organization. A vision can emerge collaboratively but leadership first and foremost involves constantly levitating the organization or team so everyone can see it, internalize it, believe in it passionately and pursue it,” Mr. Gore said.

NASA’s Apollo program was the example Mr. Gore cited when discussing challenges that arise from a vision that isn’t continuously refreshed and how a team’s purpose, in absence of a continually updated vision, can fall into a state of disorganization.

“Many businesses have a supernova at the creation of the organization but when it fades, it isn’t renewed. There has to be a constant process of lifting up and refreshing the vision,” Mr. Gore affirmed.

After defining vision, the theme of values came into focus. Mr. Gore illuminated the concept by discussing Massively Parallel Processing (MPP). A clear, well-crafted framework of the values of an organization that allows employees at all levels to perform multiple tasks simultaneously and effectively.

“Values are the software of any organization that a leader depends upon to give reassurance that the clerk behind the desk or otherwise at the end of the organization can and should be trusted to make timely decisions without funneling up to the CEO or the leader of that organization,” Mr. Gore said.

 Massively parallel processing is a metaphorical means of removing information and decision-making bottlenecks in organizations, Mr. Gore said, and it’s also at the heart of both capitalism and democracy.

Goals, the final touchstone of a strong leadership foundation, he said should be ordered in priority ranking and exist in a sequence. If they are performed in the correct sequence at the appropriate time and in accordance with the values of the organization, then the organization is well-led.

“You want the people that you’re leading to take risks and make decisions – and not funnel it up to the top – and be creative and innovative and appreciate diversity, and you want the people under them to manifest the same behaviors. You want them to ask why are we here, what is our purpose?” Mr. Gore said.

To exemplify this point, Mr. Gore referenced the phenomenon of the wisdom of crowds. Pointing to the studies that have repeatedly shown that estimations taken from individuals on the same subject will vary widely but the average across those estimations are likely to be close to the accurate value. And maximum diversity, he pointed out, yields the greatest collective wisdom.

“Lift up diversity and recognize you’re doing it not just because it’s the thing to do, it is, it’s essential for a leader to understand how valuable it is,” he said.

 For the final portion of Tuesday night’s event, Mr. Gore, alongside Dr. Seidenberg and Coach Vogel-Seidenberg, offered thoughtful responses to questions posed by students.  Mr. Gore shared that he continues to grow and develop as a leader, including asking a lot of questions and actively listening to those around him. At the White House working on the Reinventing Leadership project, Mr. Gore had a practice of approaching everyone across departments and agencies, including the janitors, to ask them how things were going, and he found that a diversity of perspective lent great insight into the potential for process improvement.

To close, Mr. Gore encouraged our MBA students to be bold and take chances as they forged their leadership identities, “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Professors Massoud and Cavanagh, who teach courses in strategy and leadership, respectively, were enthusiastic about their personal interactions with Mr. Gore and enjoyed listening to his leadership insights.

Bringing inspirational leaders to connect directly with MBA students, is central to what is offered at Barowsky. These opportunities for students to engage with innovators and thought-leaders in intimate settings is one of the ways that our business school is building the next generation of capable leaders driven by a deep sense of values and purpose. It is an extension of the Dominican experience that inspires personal growth in students, helps them identify their strengths and ignites their passions.

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