Campus & Community

New KSG Center Will Focus On Public Leadership

4 min read
Ronald Heifetz

The Kennedy School of Government will open a Center for Public Leadership this fall, seeking to enrich and improve the quality of public leadership in the United States and abroad, Dean Joseph S. Nye Jr. announced last week.

Dean Nye also announced that two members of the Kennedy School faculty, David Gergen and Ronald Heifetz, will serve as co-directors of the new center. Gergen, who became a professor of public service last year, is a former White House adviser to four presidents and continues to work as a journalist. Heifetz is director of the Leadership Education Project at the Kennedy School and author of a seminal book in the field, Leadership Without Easy Answers.

David Gergen

The new enterprise, Nye said, aims to become a preeminent center for research, education, and training in leadership. “A central mission of the Kennedy School since its inception has been the preparation of men and women for public leadership. In recent years, we have been intensifying our efforts. Now, with the creation of this Center, we can carry our endeavors to an entirely new level. I believe that the School’s investment in this new intellectual area will illuminate some of the most important issues facing our global future – understanding what makes good leaders and training individuals to lead in a world changing at warp speed. It is an exciting enterprise for the School and one of my highest priorities as Dean.”

Generous seed funding by Leslie and Abigail Wexner and the Wexner Foundation of Columbus, Ohio, are enabling the School to take this initiative, the Dean said. Leslie Wexner, founder and chairman of The Limited Inc., and his wife, Abigail, are among the country’s foremost philanthropists and have already endowed several programs at Harvard.

The primary focus and target audience for the Center’s programs during its first three years will be those serving in government. The Center will be built upon three pillars:

Research – Among its early initiatives, a research venture fund will enable the Center to encourage scholars at Harvard and beyond to study questions that are not yet fully answered in the newly developing field of leadership. The Center will also conduct interviews with an array of public leaders, seeking to extract practical lessons for others and to develop case studies.

Teaching and Training — The Center will work with existing and new members of the Kennedy School faculty to build up leadership programs for students enrolled at the School. It is also anticipated that the Center will develop new executive offerings for mayors and city officials, community leaders, governors and high-level state executives, Congressional representatives, officials in the Executive Branch, and emerging international leaders.

Outreach — The Center will expand the Kennedy School’s executive programs for leadership educators and will form alliances with a number of programs such as the Council of Women World Leaders, which was recently started at Harvard. Later this year, the Center will be working with the Israeli Directors General Program.

Gergen commented, “Students at the Kennedy School have demonstrated keen interest in learning more about the arts and skills of leadership. This new Center, I hope, will not only meet their aspirations but will also serve as a major new resource for research and training of public leaders here and overseas. All of us engaged in this project are grateful to the Wexners for helping us get started, and we look forward to working with others at the Kennedy School to build from here.”

“For nearly 20 years,” said Heifetz, “my colleagues and I have been examining leadership, with and without authority, and the tasks and competencies required to mobilize people for progress on the toughest of public challenges. Through this work, we’ve developed innovative and experiential ways to teach leadership in courses and programs with life-changing impact on professionals who come and study at the Kennedy School from public life around the world. Yet a vast frontier of research and teaching in the practice of leadership lies before us – in policy contexts, institutional contexts, and in different cultures. We are eager to join with colleagues at Harvard and from institutions here and abroad to improve the quality of public leadership, and thereby improve the quality and sustainability of life in our communities and societies.”