Two weekends ago other members of the Presidential Leadership Academy and I went to Washington D.C. to engage with local political and business leaders. Being that I am a senior, I have now been on three trips with the Academy. Each trip comes with intellectually stimulating conversation and activities. On the bus ride back to Penn State I found myself reflecting on those conversations. I would like to now discuss my favorite speaker that I found to be the most impactful.
Upon arriving in D. C. we visited the American Enterprise Institute and listened to some of the leaders within the organization. One speaker was especially intriguing to me. Michael Rubin, a resident scholar, who conducts research in Arab politics, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. He speaks multiple languages and can communicate with multiple tribes throughout the Middle East. Additionally, he had worked with the Taliban before 9/11. I believe the reason I enjoyed hearing from him so much is that the Middle East feels so foreign to me. I have tried to understand the current framework of the Middle East before but have never come close to understanding the landscape. In thinking about leadership, I think that Michael Rubin’s experience leads to some inciteful concepts about what goes into making a strong leader.
I believe Rubin shows the importance of being specialized in order to become a leader. Looking at sports teams, for example, the captains are often the most talented players. Because they are the most specialized at the given sport, they can easily gain a following as they will be able to lead by example. Often people put too much emphasis about being a generalist. By generalist I mean having a wide skill set but not necessarily being proficient in one area. The benefits of committing yourself to a specific field is that you can gain the skills necessary to critically think through a situation to make smart decisions to carry out the strategy of the organization.