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Acclaimed leadership expert Posner speaks to MC students

Barry McNamara
03/03/2014
Keynote speaker Barry Posner poses with Samantha Stevenson '15, vice president of the Associated Students of Monmouth College (ASMC) and ASMC president Adam Ruble '15.
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When national leadership expert Barry Posner asked a group of approximately 130 Monmouth College students what they thought was the ONE reason he didn’t realize his dream of becoming a professional basketball player, one student chose the words of her reply carefully.
 
“Because you weren’t fast enough?” she timidly proposed.
 
Posner, a professor of leadership at Santa Clara University and co-author of the internationally-acclaimed “The Leadership Challenge,” appreciated the delicate response, thanking her for not saying he was too slow. He fielded several other possibilities from the group of aspiring leaders before delivering one of the key lessons he wanted to teach.
 
“I didn’t make it as a professional player because there are not enough teams,” he said. Once the students took a few seconds to process his unexpected reason, he continued, “Fortunately, that doesn’t apply to you. For leaders, there is no shortage of opportunities.”
 
The keynote speaker of the “Scots Leadership Challenge 2014,” Posner titled his talk “The Five Practices of Exemplary Student Leadership.” Those practices included: 1) model the way; 2) inspire a shared vision; 3) challenge the process; 4) enable others to act; and 5) encourage the heart.
 
When heading down the leadership road, Posner told the students they first have to make an “audacious assumption.”
 
“You need to believe that you make a difference,” he said. “The first person you need to lead is you.”
 
He continued, “The question to ask is not ‘Will I make a difference?’ but ‘What difference will I make?’ By asking that question, you will start to live your life in a very forward-thinking way.”
 
During another audience-participation portion of his talk, Posner told the students he was going to lead them in clapping, stressing that the clapping would begin on the count on three. He counted “1 ... 2 ...” and then clapped his hands together before he reached “3.” About 90 percent of the students followed his lead.
 
“That proves our actions are more important than what we say,” Posner explained. “As a leader, when you say you’ll be there at 6, are you on time? When you say you’ve got somebody’s back, do you?”
 
In explaining his “Inspire a shared vision” point, Posner told the students that “inspire” comes from the same root word as “expire.” While the latter word represents an end, inspire means “to breathe life into.” As for the importance of vision, he said that a leadership opportunity could be likened to a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle.
 
“I could pass out pieces to all of you and say ‘Let’s get started.’ But what would we be missing? The picture on the front of the box – the vision of what we’re trying to create.”
 
Other tips Posner shared with students included using encouraging words with their peers, making use of committees to help get things done and taking on experiences outside their comfort zone.
 
To answer his final question, “When does leadership begin?,” Posner introduced the students to “The Parable of the 12 Frogs.” He told them there were 12 frogs sitting on a log on a pond, and seven of them decided to jump in. He then asked, “Now, how many frogs are on the log?”
 
Some students replied “5,” and a few said “Zero.” But the correct answer, Posner revealed, was “12 ... They made a decision to jump in, but there is a difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.”