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The Challenge of Leadership for our Times

What does it mean to be a leader? Are leaders born or made? Can flaws be a strength? These were just a handful of questions posed during the 2010 Fall University of Oxford – Cushing Academy Discussion: The Challenge of Leadership for our Times.

Moderated by Headmaster Tracy, the panel included Tracey Camilleri, Associate Fellow at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford; Margot Morrell, lead author of Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer; and Phil Reed, Director of the Churchill War Rooms, London (who joined via video conference).


Examining different types of leaders, leadership qualities, and how to tap into one’s own strengths, the panelists answered questions generated by students that tied present-day leadership applications with examples from leaders past.


Relating to this year’s summer reading selection (Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure by F.A. Worsley) that details Sir Ernest Shackelton’s doomed Antarctic exploration in the early 1900s, Ms. Morrell discussed Shackelton’s inspiring confidence and determination. “The big questions everyone asks about Shackelton: ‘How did he do it? How did he manage to get everyone home alive and have a remarkably good time throughout, considering the ordeal?’ It was through four clear leadership skills: commitment (to getting his crew through the ordeal); connection (calling his crew together so they would all hear the same message and asking for their input); caring about his crew and making that visible; and maintaining a positive attitude.”


Noting that no one – even a leader – is perfect, Mr. Reed reminded students that “It’s scary to be a leader, because you have to have the courage to fail. This is intrinsic to being a good leader – you need that state of mind to take risks. And courage comes from having a conviction and standing by it.”


When asked about the role of followers in the complex world of the 21st century, Ms. Camilleri stressed the importance of their need to question. “Too often we want leaders to be perfect. Followers need to be questioning and see themselves as partners with the leaders. This century will require a degree of followership – we all need to be leaders and be followers to make a change. When a team is working well it’s more than the sum of its parts.”


Established in 2007, the Cushing Institute for 21st Century Leadership serves as a hub for research, curriculum resources, visiting scholars, guest speakers, collaborations, and the experiential opportunities students need to become successful and fully informed leaders for the 21st century. The Oxford-Cushing Discussions are held twice per academic year.


Click here to view a video of the discussion.


Cushing Academy

39 School Street
Ashburnham, Massachusetts 01430

Cushing Academy

Cushing Academy exists for students and develops curious, creative, and confident learners and leaders. Founded in 1865, Cushing is a co-ed, college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12 and PG. Our students, who come from over 30 states and 30 countries, excel in our outstanding academic, art, and athletic offerings. We welcome you to visit our community and beautiful 162-acre campus in Ashburnham, Mass., just one hour from Boston, to experience all that Cushing has to offer.