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Opinion

Professor gives leadership tips to grads

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December 13, 2007

On Saturday, a cohort of undergraduate and graduate students will walk across the Knowles Center Stage to receive their UW-River Falls diploma. Despite the variety of colleges and majors represented, my one hope is that all will prove to be effective leaders in their careers and communities. With this and my academic orientation as a lifespan psychologist in mind, I thought that I would send these students off with words of wisdom concerning leadership.

This theme is based on the notion that the human lifespan consists of seven unique stages, an idea popularized by William Shakespeare in his play “As You Like It,”  act 2, scene 7.

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players (…) And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. And then the whining schoolboy (…) creeping like snail unwillingly to school. And then the lover, sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow.  Then a soldier, full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, (…) And then the justice (…) with eyes severe and beard of formal cut (…) The sixth age shifts into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon (…) His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide (…) Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

With all respect to the Bard, here is my take on this theme that I refer to as the 7 Ages of Leadership.

The Infant: What infants lack, in addition to bowel control, is a voice! One of the key traits of a leader is realizing the importance of having a voice. Interestingly, it is often the case that those who know nothing tend to speak volumes. One key to leadership is to gain confidence and knowledge and know that your contributions matter.

The Whining Schoolboy: Leaders need to always be willing to learn and realize that learning does not end with graduation. A good leader accepts responsibility to be a life-long student who strives to find more effective methods of successfully completing all of life’s ventures.

The Lover: Leaders who are sensitive to the needs of others are willing to adjust their position to bring greater satisfaction to the people they are serving. Good leaders also use protection or at least protect themselves and their constituents from harm.

The Soldier: Leaders often must make painful decisions. Leaders also need to take orders and realize that even if they are in charge, they are members of a team. Leadership is about personal sacrifice for the common good.

The Justice: Leaders must understand and follow the rules of behavior, including laws and ethical practices. A good leader also bases moral decisions on what is best for the good of the all, not just what is best for personal gain.

The Pantalooned: A leader must understand that wearing pants or some form of clothing from the waist down is a good idea. A leader understands the importance of “fit” between people and their environments and assigns them to tasks at which they will be most effective. A leader is also only as good as the ideas and actions in which they “clothe” themselves. One good well-planned idea is worth much more than five thrown-together options.

Second Childishness and the Oblivion: A leader knows that the best way to avoid oblivion is to make effective decisions that have long-lasting positive effects. Finally, due to modern technology, today’s leader need not be “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” In fact, when most reach the last stage of life, you will be with teeth, with eyes, with taste—with everything!

Brad Caskey is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. A 1980 UWRF alumnus, Caskey has received numerous awards including UWRF Distinguished Teacher (1997), UWRF Advisor of the Year (2004), and the Regents Award for Teaching Excellence for the UW System (2005).