Relationships, sacrifice, trust and courage described educator and award-winning author Barry Posner’s vision of leadership at the 50th “Coffee, Cake and Conversation” on Oct. 25.
The event series, started in 1995 and hosted by the Master of Science, Leadership and Management Program, focused on Posner’s newest book, “A Leader’s Legacy.”
Posner, dean of the Leavey School of Business and professor of leadership at Santa Clara University, engaged a crowd of more than 150 students, faculty, professors and community members in a packed La Fetra Auditorium. The assortment of cakes, coffee, tea and cider combined with a closely knit audience gave the feeling of a family dinner with a famous author.
“What will be your legacy? It’s a question to think about everyday of your life,” Posner said. “Are you on this planet to do something, or are you on this planet to find something to do?”
Posner outlined his presentation in eight sections from his latest work, “A Leader’s Legacy,” co-written with James Kouzes, with whom he wrote their first best-seller, “The Leadership Challenge.” His eight points dealt with the most critical and difficult leadership issues: leaders serve and sacrifice; leadership is a relationship; leadership is personal; leaders should want to be liked; trust can’t be taken for granted; it takes courage to make a life; failure is always an option; and the legacy you leave is the life you lead.
Posner stressed the relationship aspect of leadership as the most important and influential part of the job. Leadership is not easy and is always a sacrifice.
“Ethics are influenced by the boss,” Posner said. “People look to the boss to show them what to do.”
“People don’t quit the company, they quit their manager,” he added.
He addressed the issue of personal involvement and need to be well liked with examples of everyday relationships and the nature of their success.
“You don’t stay in a relationship when you don’t like them,” Posner said. “Would you say to you wife, ‘Hunny, I don’t like you, but I respect you?’”
The author encouraged audience members to examine their values and always remember to remain sincere and genuine.
Posner discussed courage as they do in the book as “RPMs or Rosa Parks Moments” saying “little acts can make a big difference, one person can make the difference and courageous acts flow from our beliefs.”
“Leadership begins when people care,” Posner said. “To care about someone is to suffer and grieve. Leadership full circle is to care and sacrifice.”
Posner compared failure through examples and quotes from famous inventors and thinkers such as Thomas Edison saying, “I’ve failed my way to success.”
“To know something is to know what is not,” Posner said. “A learning curve is not a straight line.”
The author described leaders as learners and risk takers, always pushing themselves to the next level.
“Once we stop learning, we start rotting, we stop growing,” Posner said. “You don’t know what you’re capable of until asked.”
Posner closed his presentation with a question-and-answer session and concluding leaders “have a choice.”
“The challenge is to put our hearts in our businesses and our businesses in our hearts,” Posner said. “Heart is what matters not details stemming from them.”
“There is no shortage of opportunities to the chances we have to make a difference,” he added.
For many attending the event, Posner’s work stood as an influential presence in the classroom and their workplace.
“Studying Posner’s work has profoundly affected the way I lead by understanding leader lead by understanding leadership is a relationship,” said Ron Hurst, 2006 alumnus from the MSLM Program and operations manager of a steel mill in Rancho Cucamonga. “My staff would tell you that they feel listened to. I have implored his practices to a practical effect.”
The line to have a book signed by Posner climbed the steps of La Fetra Auditorium and trickled out the door.
For Zayra Salamanca, a senior organizational management and leadership major, Posner’s talk gave her ideas for her future in leadership, and her life.
“[Posner’s work] will help me in many aspects, not just in business but in life,” Salamanca said. “People don’t know how much you know until you care.”
“What stuck with me was his closing when he said, ‘heart is what matters and you have to care about what you do,’” she added.
Before Posner spoke, the event opened with a celebration of the 50-event achievement.
Dean of the College of Business and Public Management Gordon Badovick and University President Stephen Morgan commended Carol Sawyer, professor of organizational leadership and former MSLM program chair for 11 years.
Sawyer, who gathered speakers for the “Coffee, Cake and Conversation” series since 1995, was honored with gifts and described by Morgan as “master of the cold call, willing to call anyone and did not have the word ‘no’ in her vocabulary.”
Over the years the series has featured a variety of prominent authors and thinkers including Warren Schmidt, who attended the 50th event, James MacGregor Burns, James O’Toole, Peter Frost and many others.
“We have a provocative evening with the most prominent authors and thinkers in one-on-one conversations,” Sawyer said. “It’s a chance to learn and grow beyond the classroom.”
Sawyer, who had used Posner’s work in her own classroom, strongly agreed with the author’s relationship theories.
“I hope Posner’s audience accepts his challenge of leading ¬ you can step back or step forward,” Sawyer said. “Be bold when appropriate and know what you have to achieve in leadership and life … why else are we here?”
“That is the challenge that people call relationship skills ‘soft’ skills opposed to finance,” she added. “Posner says the most difficult skills are the ‘soft’ skills and are the hardest to do well.”
Sawyer’s goal for the series is to boost MSLM to be one of the finest programs in leadership nationwide.
“We are constantly seeking ways to refine students,” Sawyer said. “Our students go on to work in very challenging workplaces and we hope they are grounded in the very best as human beings and getting things done with other people.”
Nicole Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.