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What Makes A Great Leader?

Former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz uses General David Petraeus as a star example of a great leader. (AP)

Former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz uses General David Petraeus as a star example of a great leader. (AP)

Here & Now Guest:

We talk about leaders and leadership constantly, in business, politics, sports, war, but what makes a good leader?

In a now-famous speech, delivered last year at West Point, essayist William Deresiewicz argues that leadership requires solitude, focus and meaningful relationships.

Without those, he says, it’s hard to arrive at thoughts that are truly your own, and hard to develop the moral compass and moral courage necessary to act on those thoughts.

Deresiewicz, who taught at Yale, says those are exactly the qualities our leading institutions are failing to cultivate in their students. Instead, elite colleges are training young Americans to excel in the qualities our society rewards — jumping through hoops and climbing the greasy pole of career and financial success.

“You need a lot of inner strength to say, ‘I’m not going to behave the way everyone wants me to behave,'” he told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “I don’t think we’re doing a good job developing that in people.”

Deresiewicz latest book is “A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter. ”

Nobel prize winner V.S. Naipaul dismissed Jane Austen in a recent interview.

Naipaul said he did not think any woman writer was equal to him, and of Jane Austen, Naipaul added, “I couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world.”

Deresiwicz told Here & Now‘s Robin Young that not only is Jane Austen a great writer, but also, “Naipaul’s best work could not exist without Austen, something Naipaul can’t bring himself to admit.”


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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