Great Leadership Can Be Learned

Stanford_Oval_May_2011_panoramaIn a podcast interview produced by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, Dr. John Hennessy discusses how he applied the lessons learned from founding tech start-up companies to his presidency of Stanford University for the last sixteen years.  Hennessy asserts that entrepreneurship is not exclusively a business concept and that it can happen inside any organization, including universities.  He feels that “entrepreneurship is about transforming things by initiating, by taking new ideas, [and] by seeing them from concept into practice so that the impact of the idea is larger than it would be if you just wrote a publication about it.”  The spirit of enterprise led him to seek ways to expedite collaborative university decision-making, to focus on a smaller number of initiatives that could have large impacts, and to improve the systems that train upcoming leaders.

Hennessy comes across as both personally humble (“it begins with great people”) and intensely ambitious for the university (“if we go do that, can we be world-class in that field?”).  It struck me how many times the conversation circled back to concepts such as trust and ethics, including Hennessy’s awareness that his personal integrity and the integrity of the university were intertwined.  Because Hennessy is awaiting the appointment of his successor at the time of the interview, we also hear reflections on what he suspects his life will look like after his presidency.  As one would expect for a leader who truly believes in his organization’s positive contribution to the world, those plans include continued meaningful service to Stanford University.

Stanford Technology Ventures Program. (Producer). (2016, February 3).  Great Leadership                  Can Be Learned [Season 11, Episode 13].  Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders.                          Podcast retrieved from

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