What is leadership?
Ask most people, and words like “courage,” “vision” and “strength” come to mind. But Lehigh’s coaches, deans and student-athletes have more personal interpretations that are borne out of their experiences, challenges and successes.
“In my mind, it’s setting the standard in everything we do as it relates to our behaviors,” says Sue Troyan, head coach for Lehigh’s women’s basketball program for the last nine years. “We challenge our kids to excel in the classroom, on the court, and in the community. The strongest leaders for our program are the kids who are able to influence their teammates to become better because they demand a high standard from themselves as well as others.”
Troyan, who played organized sports for 12 years and coached at the collegiate level for another 15, says that her decades of exposure to dedicated athletes has convinced her of two absolutes: Being a strong coach or player requires an incredible effort, and the teams that flourished benefited from strong leadership within the team.
“Sometimes this leadership started with the coach,” she said, “but leadership had the greatest influence when it came from the players.”
That observation comes as no surprise to Mike Gregorek ’04, a marketing major who came to Lehigh from Bethlehem Catholic High School to play offensive lineman for the Mountain Hawks, and was part of some of the university’s most successful seasons.
“It’s a top-flight program, with great coaches and great athletes,” says Gregorek. “They taught me a lot about winning, about losing, about struggling in the face of adversity, about life in general. You learn about leadership just from being around them.”
The younger brother of Lafayette stand-out Brian Gregorek, who graduated from Lehigh’s arch-rival in 2001, Gregorek says his sibling taught him about leadership and maturity by example.
“I give a lot of credit of him. He would talk to me, get me through things. He was just a great inspiration,” says Gregorek, who also cites current coach Pete Lembo and former Lehigh coach Kevin Higgins as other role models. “I’ve been really lucky, to have the opportunity to work with coaches of that caliber. I know a lot of what they taught me are lessons I’ll carry over to life after Lehigh, too.”
That is precisely the intent, says Lembo, who has been Gregorek’s coach for the past four years, and says that well-grounded student-athletes at Lehigh often develop into strong leaders.
“If they come in here with a good foundation in place, they can’t help but improve upon it, considering what they are exposed to on a daily basis,” Lembo says.
Nonetheless, he says, belief in a worthy cause or noble venture is essential to succeeding in both athletics and life.
“That conviction is what makes someone a good leader, and what inspires others to follow his or her example. A good leader is passionate about the cause. Through word and action, that individual can enable others to do their best.”
Senior wrestler Brad Dillon is more of a “lead by example” kind of person, rather than being loud and rowdy. “I just try and carry myself the right way, both on and off of the mat. If we are at practice, I will go over and pick someone up if they are having a bad day, or if the team is having a sub-par performance, I make sure to pick up my effort and help everyone re-focus.”
It is the practical aspect of leadership that intrigues Mohamed El-Aasser, dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, who cites a passage from a speech given by Dr. Diane Ravish, the holder of the Brown Chair in Education Policy at the D.C.-based Brookings Institute.
“She said, ‘The person who knows “how” will always have a job. The person who knows “why” will always be his boss,’” says El-Aasser. “In that quote, she captures the essence of a leader, namely the curiosity to know ‘why.’ We are dedicated to educating our students to continually pursue knowledge and to simultaneously apply this knowledge to address societal needs on a global level. The students who graduate from our college are groomed to be future leaders from the day they step on campus.”
El-Aasser says that his college’s first-year engineering students begin to acquire skills necessary for strong leadership, such as technical competence, communication, teamwork, ethics, and a global and cultural awareness – all intertwined in a curriculum that reflects cross-disciplinary activities.
“Our leaders of the 21st century must look for innovative, ethical solutions to problems that affect our society, examine the impact of those solutions for the future and, most importantly, have the courage to communicate these solutions to others,” he says. “A true leader can not be limited by what was done in the past, but must remain a visionary to what can be done in the future.”
In the business world, the ability to survey the landscape, identify challenges and develop a plan for surmounting them is a required mode of operation, says Richard M. Durand, the Herbert E. Ehlers Dean of the College of Business and Economics.
“Lehigh has produced an extremely high percentage of leaders in the corporate world, and this is due, in part, to the comprehensive educational experience they received here,” says Durand. “We also stress the ethical aspect of a business education in an effort to turn out strong, capable individuals who can chart a course to success, and inspire others to join them on that path.”
Durand says that his college is successful in producing good leaders because the teaching approach mirrors real-world scenarios.
“Our students are taught at the intersections of disciplines,” says Durand, who lists distinctive, market-responsive programs (such as the supply chain management and MBA in engineering) ; collaborative efforts across Lehigh’s four colleges; and established partnerships with corporate entities as further initiatives developed to meet market needs.
“That’s how you produce good leaders,” he says. “You attract first-class students with innovative programs, you provide real-world scenarios, you partner with the best in the industry, and you teach by example.”
Sally White, dean of the College of Education, draws a further distinction between managers, who can perform discrete tasks well but might have a harder time with multiple activities across domains.
“Leaders on the other hand, can see connections between lots of different tasks, organizations, disciplines, etc., and find it challenging to solve problems and test their intellectual limits,” White says. “They enjoy learning complex issues and facilitating success in others. In today's higher education environment, leaders have to be incredibly open-minded and be a chameleon in business, industry, government, and educational settings.”
For basketball coach Billy Taylor, the concept of leadership boils down to one word: respect.
“It is always at the core of strong leadership,” says Taylor, who presided over the men’s basketball program’s remarkable turnaround last year. “Whenever we talk with the team, we emphasize that, first and foremost, being an effective leader means respect for others, and respect for yourself. That’s important, whether you’re talking about being a part of a team, or a part of your community. It’s all about the ability to understand and respect different points of views, to be able to mediate, to stand tall and provide a positive direction.”
Those qualities aren’t always found in the most visible players, he adds.
“It could be the guy at the end of the bench,” he says. “And sometimes, it takes a little while to notice it. But if it’s there, it does come through eventually.”
The ability to mediate, to inspire and to move people toward a shared goal is a hallmark of leadership for Carl Moses, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“It’s really a set of behaviors and attitudes that empower an individual or group of individuals to effect change while adapting to changing circumstances along the way,” Moses says. “It also entails articulating a vision of the objective, as well as the values, beliefs, and norms of behavior required to achieve the objective. Leaders motivate, engage and enable others to achieve success.”
As a student in the College of Arts of Sciences, senior sociology and social psychology major Liz Gripp says she learned a great deal about leadership from both her professors and fellow students. But it was on the softball field, where Gripp covers first-base for the Lehigh women’s softball team, that she learned a key lesson.
“Everyone’s word is valuable,” she says. “Just because you are in a leadership role, that doesn’t mean that your opinion is any more important than the next person. It’s only through combining our efforts that we achieve success.”
Erin Iwaskiewicz ‘04, an art major and four-year starter on the soccer team, agrees.
“Being selected as a leader doesn’t automatically make you a good one,” she says. “It’s something you have to work at, and one of the most important characteristics is to be good listener. More often than not, you won’t have all the answers. But you can be there for people when they need you.”