UT professor discusses leadership, history


Public affairs professor Jeremi Suri has ambitions to make UT a center for leadership development by emphasizing history as the key to strategic leadership.

Mid and senior-level managers gathered in the Bass Lecture Hall to hear Suri.

Suri was introduced by Barry Bales, assistant dean for professional development at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, who said implementing a historical perspective helps a leader understand strategic decision making.

According to Suri’s presentation, there are three important criteria for this strategic leadership: situating your organization, assessing opportunities and avoiding distractions.

He then said the way to meet these criteria is to understand the link between leadership and history. 

“Leadership is about historical sensibility,” Suri said. “Dealing with these issues is all about thinking about yourself historically.”

Suri examined aspects of leadership through art, photography and world history. He said several historical leaders, including David Rockefeller and Barack Obama, benefitted from thinking historically.

“If you want to understand what has allowed them to become leaders, it is their ability to put themselves in this context,” Suri said. “It is their abilities to think about the opportunities before them. It is the ability they had to avoid distraction. It is a mode of thinking.”

Suri warned that even gifted leaders can fail by continuing in a comfortable method of leadership, rather than acknowledging that a changing world necessitates innovation.

Aanand Shukla, CEO and founder of a local Austin company called Brick Canvas, attended the lecture and said he learned from Suri’s leadership seminar.

“What resonated a lot with me was that often leaders implement strategies or continue implementing strategies that haven’t necessarily worked in the past,” Shukla said. 

In an interview after the lecture, Suri said his work in professional development is part of a larger effort to spearhead the nation’s strategic leadership programs.

“I have very big ambitions,” Suri said. “I want people to look back and say ‘UT and the LBJ School at this moment played a key contributing role in creating the new leaders of our society and the new leaders of the state.‘”

Published on March 6, 2013 as "History key to strategic leadership".