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On leadership: A Q&A with Dean Paul Woodruff

As a part of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs Leadership Lecture Series, Dean Paul Woodruff shares his thoughts on the simple truths about leadership in a free society.

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The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs Leadership Lecture Series will feature Paul Woodruff, dean of undergraduate studies at The University of Texas at Austin and Darrell K Royal Professor in Ethics and American Society. On Oct. 25, Woodruff will discuss the connection between leadership, democracy and freedom. Here, he shares his thoughts on the simple truths about leadership in a free society and what can be learned by examining leaders under crisis.

Q: Your talk on Oct. 25, part of the LBJ School Fall Leadership Lecture Series, is titled “Leadership and the Shape of Freedom.” Can you give us a preview of what that will entail?

A: When the ancient Greeks invented democracy, they had to learn a new distinction — between leadership and the rule of a master or king. Leadership is the form of influence that is compatible with freedom. The talk will explain what this means.

Q: How would you characterize your personal brand of leadership?

A: I cannot say. Ask those for whom I have been a leader — faculty, staff or students. (I take it that a teacher in a free society functions primarily as a leader for students.)

Q: How do ethics factor into leadership?

A: In a free society, a leader’s influence depends on character above all. And character belongs to ethics.

Q: Is there something you have learned from your research and personal leadership experiences that everyone should know?

A: Leadership calls for respect on both sides. Leadership gives shape to freedom without infringing on it. Freedom must have contours. Good leaders are good losers. They appreciate the variety of the human landscape. And good leaders are good learners.

Q: How has American culture viewed leadership in the past, and are there any lessons there for our current national leaders?

A: American culture has always been diverse, but we have been fortunate to have great leadership at times of crisis. We can learn by studying Washington, Lincoln and many others. We can also learn by examining the faults of failed leaders. You supply the list.

Dean Paul Woodruff will be the second speaker in the Leadership Lecture Series on Oct. 25 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in Bass Lecture Hall, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, 2315 Red River St.

Learn more about this and other Leadership Lecture Series events.