Nature or nurture?

Friday, March 1, 2024

Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,

Happy Friday!

Leadership. What is it? It is not about titles. It is not management, since no leader will take on a job just to keep it managed or keep it in existence. And leaders don’t simply preside over their positions. Over the years I have realized that game-changing leaders are thoughtful, creative, bold and efficient. They see more than what others see and, in fact, see more than what’s visible. Leaders I have worked with always understood what was about to occur, what could occur and what should occur. They had situational awareness. They were possibility thinkers and almost seemed as if they had a sixth sense! In the end, they were action-oriented, fostered the positive and added value.

For as long as I can recall, there have been discussions on the nature-versus-nurture paradigms of leadership, along with the listed pros and cons of both concepts. To me, the danger of focusing on innate qualities of leadership is the assumption that many leadership traits are predetermined, which falsely limits the possibility of growth and development in becoming an effective leader.

Believing that we all can learn and implement fundamental elements of leadership, our newly developed Leadership and Innovation for Futures in Engineering (LIFE) program is a specially designed leadership training program for students. This unique program goes beyond providing technical skills to our students. It prepares them to progressively develop the mindset of a leader: curiosity, self-knowledge, reflection and the ability to create added value. Developed in 2023, the program includes special workshops and projects and offers networking and mentoring opportunities for participants. The training reinforces the sense of “WEadership,” group work, hard work, trust and integrity. Our students learn that trust and integrity are fundamental to teamwork, growth, a sense of accomplishment and professional satisfaction. They learn that, in the words of U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” Although I submit that integrity is essential and complementary to the other needed traits of leadership. 

Leadership training is also one of the five core areas in the Kummer Vanguard Scholars Program, which is designed to prepare students to make an impact. The other four areas include entrepreneurship, research, design and build, and social responsibility training. Approximately 1,100 undergraduate students with STEM majors participate in the program, which provides renewable scholarship funds and experiences that complement what they learn in their labs and classrooms. Our Changemakers Community Leadership Program is designed for students who want to be leaders in their communities, now and in the future.

Our more than 200 clubs, student organizations, and design teams provide formal and informal opportunities for our students, faculty and staff to step into leadership roles.

On this National Employee Appreciation Day, I encourage our faculty and staff to participate in our Leadership Development Programs for continued professional development. Designed for any stage of your career, our leadership series includes a personal effectiveness workshop for all employees and supervisory training for new managers. In addition, our employees can participate in the Administrative Leadership Development Program, which is available on a cohort basis. 

Whether innate or learned, the question is irrelevant since the spirit of leadership is not about the leader although it begins with the leader. The most common denominator of effective leaders I have encountered is their ability to make connections and forge communities. Their motto is proactive teamwork, quality work on all tasks, collaboration with spirit of openness and full disclosure. To them, the principles of excellence and integrity are not optional and, whether walking in front or behind, they are always beside their teams, empowering and inspiring.



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Mohammad Dehghani, PhD
Chancellor | 573-341-4116

206 Parker Hall, 300 West 13th Street, Rolla, MO 65409-0910