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B. Joseph White said he first began to think about writing a book about leadership while he served as a dean at the University of Michigan, when the faculty held a softball game of the "Reptiles" versus the "Mammals." White eventually applied that concept of reptiles and mammals to types of people and, ultimately, leadership.
On Thursday evening, November 1, White, president of the University of Illinois, discussed the topic, "The Nature of Leadership," in Brookens Auditorium. White shared insights about leadership he has seen from his experiences, both professional and personal. The event was sponsored by the Friends of Brookens Library.
The lecture was followed by a book signing and reception in the Public Affairs Center restaurant, and both the presentation and reception were free and open to the public. White signed copies of his book, "The Nature of Leadership: Reptiles, Mammals, and the Challenge of Becoming a Great Leader."
White became president of the U of I in January 2005. Previously, he held positions at the University of Michigan for nearly three decades, including a term as interim president and leading the Business School for 10 years.
White's presentation was part of the ECCE (Engaged Citizenship Common Experience) Speakers Series at UIS, campus-sponsored lectures by speakers who exemplify engaged citizenship.
In his program, White said he believes the public in general often judges a leader on "superficial grounds," like appearance.
"Leadership is ultimately about the results that you achieve; it's about some other things too, but mostly about the results you achieve," he emphasized. "You make the best judgments you can: you roll the dice and do your best to get the outcomes you seek. If you do, then you're a good leader. If not, well, then you tried, and that's how leadership goes."
During the presentation, White showed pictures of people he admired as leaders, such as Madeleine Albright and Tim Nugent, many of whom were subjects in his book. He stressed that while public results are part of being a leader, private or personal accomplishments also make a leader as well.
He also showcased a pyramid he created, and is featured in his book, that includes a foundation, two side consisting of reptiles and mammals and the top, which reads "Great Leader Ingredients." Leadership is made up of an array of "ingredients," White said, like integrity and character.
"Leadership is hard work," he said. "It's physically hard, it's intellectually hard and it's inter-personally hard."