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time I spent in the Valley when I was on leave, starting my first company, MIPS
Computer Systems. I learned it in real time. One of the things that I did as
president, as a result, was to build the leadership academy, where we bring in
faculty and staff on the administrative track who will be future vice presidents
and deans, and help them develop leadership skills. It covers everything from
getting a communication coach, to solving difficult problems, to dealing with
difficult conversations. It has produced many leaders who’ve gone on to important
roles in the university.
S+B: In Leading Matters, you wrote that when you became provost, you were
only 47. Can you talk a little bit about the dichotomy between how age and
experience are treated in the university, where seniority really matters, and
how they are treated in Silicon Valley, where youth is always served?
HENNESSY: Leadership is a challenge whether it is at a company or in an academic
setting. Young people are often great at constructing a vision, and talking about
the vision. They often don’t have any
experience in dealing with the hard
parts. I was having a discussion with Bill
Gates when he was still at Microsoft,
and we were talking about what was
really hard about the job. He said, “It’s
not the technical issues, it’s not the
numbers; it’s the people issues.” And
I think that’s where experience is
absolutely crucial. To coach somebody who reports to you, who has great potential
but is not living up to that potential — that’s a really hard thing to do well, so
that you don’t either destroy the person or mislead them. That’s a skill that you
grow over time, and lots of times when we catapult people who are very young
into leadership positions, they don’t have those skills developed yet.
“A lot of what I learned
about management was
in the time I spent in the
Valley, starting my first
company. I learned it in
real time.”

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