|Third graders at their Ancient Egyptian Celebration this week|
Diagnosed as a toddler with a rare form of retinal degeneration, this superbly intelligent woman was completely blind at the age of 14. I found it remarkable how she was able to regale her audience with stories, quote exact figures from her research, and show both amusing and informative examples to illustrate her point, all in perfect order with the PowerPoint she had created.
Iyengar’s talk was about the relationship between leadership and choice. Some leaders are literally born into the role. Others are simply born with bucket loads of charisma and naturally rise to the top, while most of us in leadership positions have arrived there because we have developed the ability to choose well and to enhance the power of good choices for transformative good.
I am proud that Friends’ School teaches children how to make good choices. This is such an important part of our educational philosophy that we have times of our week when students get to choose what activities they would like to partake in. Teachers put out different types of materials, quite often art supplies, items to build with or glue together, thingamajigs where scientific discoveries can be made. And if a child does not choose to spend time doing one of the choices set out by the teacher, he or she may choose to do something else. Quite often the choices presented are connected to the current area of curriculum study, but sometimes not.
We have discovered that, at choice time, children actively engage in the process of defining themselves. They are given the opportunity to make decisions and think for themselves, and they shine.
This is what we want from our Friends’ School and college graduates. We seek collaborators and team players who know themselves, think for themselves, and have great ideas.
It is clear that effective leaders today have to be dedicated practitioners of the art of choice. They have to understand the people they lead and work with them to give them the right amount of choice to empower them. Sheena Iyengar herself was dealt a rough hand in the game of life, a disease that robbed her of her eyesight. She chose to rise above it, to become an expert in her chosen field, and she chose to shine. Our Friends’ School students are on their way to doing the same.
Wherever you choose to be this holiday season, and whomever you choose to be with, I wish you a peaceful, restful, and happy winter break.
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, 2010