David McCullough speaks at the debut event of the Clough Colloquium Series and, with University President William P. Leahy, SJ, chats afterwards with members of the family of Winston Center benefactor Norman Chambers. (Photos by Rose Lincoln)
Winston Ctr. Hosts McCullough
By Reid Oslin
Pulitzer-prize winning historian David McCullough told a capacity Boston College audience last Thursday that the best way to educate leaders for the future is to take a good look at the past.
"If you want to be a leader, if you want to teach the future leaders, if you want to encourage leadership at all levels of society, you have got to teach history," McCullough said.
"How do we know who we are, what happened and why it happened if we don't know history? Young people of today can go everywhere - and do - but they don't know where 'everywhere' is," he said, drawing peals of audience laughter. "The real problem with American education, and including most importantly, the education of leadership, is us. We have to show our interest in history."
McCullough was the keynote speaker at the inaugural event of the Clough Colloquium Series, sponsored by the Carroll School of Management's Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, held May 4 at Robsham Theater. The series was established by a gift from former University Board of Trustees chairman Charles I. Clough '64 and his wife Gloria, MS '96, as part of the Winston Center's efforts to engage business leaders, faculty and students in ethical training and leadership formation.
McCullough, author of such highly acclaimed books as John Adams, Truman and 1776, frequently cited the characteristics of key American leaders that are evident through the study of history.
"When George Washington took command of the Continental Army in the summer of 1775," he said, "he was appointed by the Continental Congress not because of his military achievement, but because they knew the man. They knew his integrity. They knew his character and they knew they could count on him.
"Washington was not an intellectual. He was not a spell-binding orator. Nor was he a military genius. What he was, was a leader. He knew what he was about; he knew why he was taking the job, even through he did not want to."
McCullough said honesty and common sense are important qualities to be found in successful leaders. "Another important ingredient of leadership is that you must be willing to have people around you who might upstage you, who in fact may be brighter than you.
"Watch out for that person who has had a flawless career, who has never failed," McCullough cautioned. "Because if they are in a job of such consequence, they are going to fail, they are going to be criticized, they are going to be abused by the press, by political opponents, by stockholders, all kinds of people.
"If they haven't had any experience in getting up off the ground, they are going to have a hard time handling it.
"To me it is not coincidental that the most effective presidents we have had down through the years have been those men who have had some sense of history, who read history, who cared about history, who loved history and who wrote history," he said. "It's conspicuous that Washington had it, Adams had it, Jefferson had it, so did Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman."