What great leaders do

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With the distinction of presidential appointments from the last eight U.S. Presidents, Roger B. Porter has had the opportunity to observe firsthand what makes or breaks a great leader.

On Wednesday, the Wheatley Institution hosted BYU alumnus Roger B. Porter, IBM Professor of Business and Government at Harvard University, as he gave an address entitled “What Great Leaders Do.”

Porter said he was particularly grateful for the privilege of sharing the occasion with his father, who has given decades of service as a teacher and administrator at BYU and is now nearing his 90th birthday.

“Many of the characteristics of great leaders that I will discuss this evening are ones that I first saw exhibited by him in our home,” Porter said.

He said the characteristics of great leaders are a fascinating subject that provides perspective on how and why decisions are made.

“Reputations of leaders rise and fall as we gain further perspective and learn more about the internal deliberations by which decisions were reached and why,” Porter said.

He invited listeners to think about leadership in a broader context.

“There are opportunities and responsibility for leadership in all types of organizations: familial, societal, corporate and governmental, secular and ecclesiastic,” Porter said.

He said there are two possible approaches for leaders in making decisions. One is solving problems by identifying and addressing them and the other is by establishing a number of goals and objectives.

“These goals serve as the prism through which every problem or challenge is viewed,” Porter said.

He said great leaders must choose to spend their time and energy on things that are the most important and that will be the surest path to the goals they have established.

“It is a condition of life that there are more useful activities than there are hours in the day or available resources to address them,” Porter said.

He outlined examples of great leadership qualities in Thomas Jefferson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, George H.W. Bush and concluded with Abraham Lincoln.

“For great leaders it is not only about what they do, but who they are,” he said.

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