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John Harvard's Journal

Educating Professionals

January-February 2009

As the Business School trains leaders, Drew Faust asked, how can Harvard best determine “the sort of differences they will make?”

As the Business School trains leaders, Drew Faust asked, how can Harvard best determine “the sort of differences they will make?”

Russ Campbell

Speaking at the Harvard Business School (HBS) centennial global business summit, on October 14, and the Harvard Law School (HLS) capital campaign celebration, on October 23—amid the intensifying economic crisis—President Drew Faust outlined her vision of professional education, service, and responsibility. In concert with her installation address a year earlier, the new addresses further fleshed out Faust’s aspirations for a research university in the twenty-first century.

Faust’s HBS address concerned the purposes of education for leadership—building on the school’s self-expressed mission of “educating leaders who make a difference in the world.” Dean Jay Light had already summarized steps the school is taking to meet contemporary challenges, and spelled out attributes of its focus on training leaders: through their development of judgment in establishing priorities; their entrepreneurial vision in finding opportunities to solve problems; their skill in communicating; their values and integrity; and their commitment to action.

Faust elaborated on recent outcomes of that work: “Until now business school students have graduated with great confidence,” she said. “They joined the fraternity of ‘masters of the universe,’ as Tom Wolfe named them in The Bonfire of the Vanities. They created a world in which the market became the organizing metaphor. Today, markets are disordered, and we are working frantically to fix a broken financial system. Never have we more needed leaders who make a difference. But how do we shape them and how do we determine the sort of difference they will make?”

Looking ahead, Faust asked, “What do we have to offer one another, our students, and the world?” She then invoked “the story of the stonecutters, which I came across in the writings of Peter Drucker, but which I gather is a bit of an old chestnut in management circles”:

A man came across three stonecutters and asked them what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on hammering while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire county.” The third looked up with a visionary gleam in his eye and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

The first stonecutter is simply doing a day’s work for a day’s pay, for the material reward he receives in exchange for his labor. The substance of his work, the purpose of his work, the context of his work do not matter.

The second stonecutter has higher aspirations. He wants to be the best. We know him well. Harvard does an outstanding job of producing students like the second stonecutter…. HBS…turns out graduates who command the best jobs in finance, banking, consulting, and marketing.…Now many of these graduates are to be found in the midst of this crisis—and in the midst of the efforts to resolve it.

The second stonecutter is an unshakable individualist. He believes in the power of the human mind, and its capacity for reason, in the drive for quality and results, and in the usefulness of reducing complex reality to a simple equation. His world is competitive and meritocratic.…

Yet somehow the vision of the second stonecutter is also incomplete. The focus on the task, the competition, the virtuosity, is a kind of blindness. Consumed with individual ambition, the second stonecutter…fails to see that there would be no stones to cut if there were not a community building a cathedral.

The third stonecutter embraces a broader vision. Interesting, I think, that the parable has him building a cathedral—not a castle or a railway station or a skyscraper.…The very menial work of stonecutting becomes part of a far larger undertaking, a spiritual as well as a physical construction.…

What is the meaning of this parable for us…at Harvard and at HBS? Why and how do we strive to create stonecutters of the third sort? We have been reminded often these past few weeks about the perils of enshrining material reward as the purpose and measure of work. We know we must do better than to create a society of stonecutters like the first man. The second man is…more like much of our rhetoric and indeed commendable in many ways.


But, she said, even that is not enough. Beyond matters of individual values and performance, the current turmoil represents “a broader and more systematic crisis that has arisen from a failure of wider vision, a failure to acknowledge our interconnectedness, a failure to recognize how one’s own stonecutting is inescapably part of a larger project. And though human beings have always been bound together, we have never before been so thoroughly and instantaneously interconnected. As we have learned, a world defined by global markets is a world without boundaries. A crisis on Wall Street can bankrupt Iceland.”

Accordingly, Faust maintained, Harvard and HBS need to understand that “Leadership that makes a difference in the world—that makes the right difference in the world—must be thinking like the third stonecutter—who…looks up and out with his sights on the cathedral. This is a matter of both values and vision—of a commitment to purposes beyond one’s self but also a grasp of wider imperatives and understandings. Leaders are accountable for more than themselves; they must be both willing and able to accept that responsibility.”

In the end, Faust said, education throughout the University must be informed by the recognition that “[L]eadership is a means; it is not an end in itself.…Leaders exist to serve followers, and leaders’ successes must be measured not simply by their power to move others, but by the directions in which they take those who follow them.”

Of HBS-trained students, she said, “We need leaders who will dedicate themselves to extricating us from the financial mess in which we now find ourselves; we need leaders to help us sort out appropriate regulatory structures in the wake of this crisis; we need leaders to help us address the impact of this crisis on families and individuals; we need leaders who will organize us to combat climate change; we need leaders who can help to deliver the wonders of modern medicine to the tens of thousands of American and global citizens in need of basic health care. These are scientific problems; these are economic problems; these are political problems, but they are also fundamentally problems of organization, management, and leadership.”

Within the University context—amid scholarship, interdisciplinary inquiry, and international perspective—she said, “Business education that takes advantage of such a setting has the opportunity to produce not just leaders who make a difference in the world but leaders who make a difference for the world. That should be the goal for both HBS and Harvard University in the century to come.”

 

That same element of service echoed strongly in Faust’s law-school remarks, delivered as celebrants gathered to toast HLS’s fortunately timed, record-setting capital campaign (precisely $476,475,707 raised, compared to a $400-million goal; 23,000 donors; 118 gifts of $1 million or more, including eight of $10 million or more).

Invoking Harvard’s fifteenth president, Josiah Quincy, on the occasion of his dedication of Dane Hall as HLS’s new home, in 1832, Faust said he had “hailed the members of the legal profession for what he called their ‘noble exertions and personal sacrifices…in the interests of the age and of society.” That spirit, she said, still animated the school as it produced attorneys general, solicitors general, members of Congress, governors, and Supreme Court justices, among others.

Beyond formal government service, Faust said, graduates have been involved in the whole realm of public-interest law, representing the indigent, leading nonprofit organizations, and encouraging pro bono practice within commercial law firms. Similarly, faculty members “include leaders in shaping our understanding not only of American constitutional law, but of constitutional principles in societies as diverse as South Africa and Iraq.” She cited professors’ work on economic and racial justice, on corporate governance, on human rights, and on reconciling civil liberties with security, among other fields. And she noted students’ engagement with 29 legal clinics that pursue problems in child advocacy, war crimes, human rights, and tenants’ rights.

In support of such work, Faust said, the law school has dual responsibilities: “It’s critical that [students] leave here with habits of mind and an understanding of legal concepts and methods essential to productive careers in the law. It’s no less critical that they leave here with a vivid sense of the law not just as an occupation but as a calling.” The school, she said, owes students “not only an education in parsing precedent and interpreting doctrine and mastering techniques of advocacy—but an education that helps them see how, in Quincy’s words, ‘noble exertions’ can advance ‘the interests of the age and of society.’”

In closing, Faust invoked alumnus Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who described law as the “branch of human knowledge… more immediately connected with all the highest interests of man than any other which deals with practical affairs.” She particularly emphasized that juxtaposition of “highest interests” with “practical affairs” in the school’s mission of education for professional practice. In the current economic turmoil, Faust said, the HLS faculty had particular responsibilities, along with their colleagues in other schools, to offer advice at the beginning of a long process of re-examining accountability, regulation, and fairness in the financial system and institutions that will emerge in the future. That work, she said, blends “practical affairs” with “conscious concern for what [Holmes] called ‘the highest interests of man’—not mere self-interest, not just the pursuit of professional status or personal gain, but rather the larger ideals that inspire this school and the profession it serves: ideals of justice, of equality, of freedom, of respect for the rule of law, of dedication to advancing the common good.”