Yes, President Alan Merten is an accomplished leader. But, as a lucky few students know, he’s also an accomplished leadership teacher.
For the past five years, Merten has been conducting Presidential Leadership Dialogues, a series of workshops where he passes along the leadership tips, traits, and secrets he’s accumulated over the three decades he has been a dean and university president.
Held twice a semester and organized by the Leadership Education and Development Office (LEAD), the dialogues attract students and alumni from all majors and backgrounds. Some of the majors represented at a dialogue held in November included music, computer science, communication, and biology.
“I love hearing him talk. He loves Mason, and I hear that when he speaks,” says attendee Karen Bontrager, BIS ’11, who graduated the August before the workshop. “He gives you practical advice, like everyone has to have an elevator speech,” referring to the short verbal resume job seekers should have to describe themselves to a potential employer.
Lisa Snyder is LEAD’s associate director and one of the organizers of Merten’s dialogues. She says the topics of the dialogues have varied over the years from ethics and management to organizational and global leadership. An avid basketball fan, Merten has even delved into leadership and values in sports, she says.
“He really wanted a chance to connect with students in an informal setting, so he could share his experiences and personal stories,” says Snyder of why Merten decided to hold the dialogues.
At the November session, Merten told the two dozen students in attendance that leaders “take risks,” “have a passion” for what they do, and “hire the right people” around them. He also said a leader’s job rarely ends with the work day; he had to attend a dinner reception for a university donor immediately following the dialogue.
“If you’re the leader,” he said, “you’ve got to be there.…You’ve got to be able to go, go, go.”
Video by Jake McLernon, Student Media Photo/Video Editor, Etched in Stone