This was homecoming weekend at Stanford. I woke up early this morning for the annual Stanford Roundtable, a special event where a distinguished panel meets to discuss topics revolving around a theme. I went last year, and got to see Justice Stephen Breyer, General Abizaid, and Tom Friedman.
This year the panel was moderated by Tom Brokaw, with guests including Justice Anthony Kennedy, CEO of the Gates Foundation Jeff Raikes, former CEO of HP Carly Fiorina, distinguished professor of American history David M. Kennedy, Congressman Xavier Becerra, Stanford’s President John Hennessy, and CEO of the Global Fund for Women Kavita Ramdas. This year’s theme was Courage, Compassion and Character Leadership for the 21st Century, and much of the discussion was about leaders — what kind of leaders do we need, how we create or find good leaders, how do we treat leaders.
Ms. Ramdas quickly emerged as a crowd favorite — her opening statement earned the first crowd applause and throughout the discussion the crowd applauded her insights and observations. She commented that the culture of this country often equates the organization with a single leader (Steve Jobs for Apple, Bill Gates for Microsoft, etc) that it forgets that it is more meaningful to have communities of leaders, because leadership isn’t just about an individual. Another notable moment was when she reminded Tom Brokaw that the phrase ‘the personal is political’ originated with the feminist movement and that it had real literal meaning — as in when woman’s choice about her own body is made political. Ms. Ramdas helped drive the discussion to acknowledged the truly global aspect of today’s world — and I was in particular intrigued that Justice Anthony Kennedy so purposefully highlighted the fact that over a billion people lack clean drinking water, and how woman and children in sub-Saharan Africa have to spend hours and hours each day simply finding water. He echoed Martin Luther King Jr.’s words about the fierce urgency of now.
Raikes, longtime Microsoft executive and current CEO of the Gates Foundation, was asked about how a new kind of leader — the “brainiacs” — are now looking to solve the problems of the world. All the teachers in the room (Hennessy, both Kennedys) remarked that even compared to the ’60s, the students they see today are more tolerant, have traveled more, are more worldy in their knowledge, and aren’t afraid to tackling hard global challenges. They know they have the tools to do such things. The discussion also shifted to the media, with references to Fiorina’s experience in the McCain campaign and of Mr. Brokaw himself. They acknowledged that due to the influences of an advertising model, the news has gotten shallower. Kennedy remarked that the press does a great job at telling the public what the Court decided, but not so much at why the Court decided. Brokaw had observed that people today have more new sources at their fingertips than ever before, and that they should not expect to be force fed things — that people need to work at being informed.
The video for the Roundtable will be on iTunes U and YouTube in a few days, so I’ll be sure to revisit this.