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On Leadership video transcripts

On Leadership video transcripts

On Leadership publishes a weekly video series with prominent national and international leaders. Complete archives available here.

Transcript: Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim

Jim Yong Kim
President of Dartmouth College Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the first non-white male president of an Ivy League institution, spoke about his identity, his work in Haiti and how he knows a great leader when he sees one.

Dr. Jim Yong Kim: I think by far what I've learned more than anything else, is by far the most important thing in leadership is to have a brutally honest understanding of who you are.

My name is Jim Yong Kim, I'm president of Dartmouth College. I am a founder of Partners in Health, a public charity that has been focused on health care in developing countries for many years and former director of the World Health Organization's HIV department.

"If you think this country owes you anything, you're crazy"

Here I am smart-aleck sophomore, finished my first semester at Brown University, fly into Davenport, Iowa. My father picks me up at the airport and we're driving home and my father says, "So what have you been studying and what do you think you're going to major in?" And I said, "Dad, I'm so excited about my studies at Brown, I think I'm going to major in philosophy."

My father slowly turned the car and put it off to the side of the road. He looked back at me and he said, "Hey, when you finish your residency you can study anything you want." He said, "Look, you are a Chinaman," and that's how he used to talk, "You're a Chinaman, and you are not going to make it in this world if you study philosophy. If you think this country owes you anything, you're crazy, you have to get a skill."

I ended up doing a PhD in anthropology on top of doing my medical degree, but that advice I think was very important. I find myself giving that advice to my students today. I say it's great to have all these great ideals, when you go to Haiti, when you go to Africa, they don't ask you, "How much do you feel for my people, how much have you studied of my people?" They say, "Have you brought anything?"

An identity of "extraordinary privilege"

In college and of course as an anthropology graduate student, identity was one of the things I talked about the all time. And my Korean identity, as a Korean-American anthropologist who went back to Korea to do his ethnographic work, was just utmost on my mind and then I met Paul Farmer, whom I've worked with now for 23 years. Paul said, "These identity things are important, but you just watch. In Haiti you're going to be blanc."

And "blanc" of course is "white" in the French Haitian Creole language. The minute I got there, they started saying "blanc, blanc, blanc." Not only did they start saying "blanc," they would ask Paul Farmer, "Is that your brother?" Sometimes, they would say, "Is that your son? Is that your father?" But for them we were all the same, we were a people with extraordinary privilege, who could fly into Haiti and bring good things for them.

What ever else I might be, the identity that I had to deal with first and foremost was my extraordinary privilege. And that's the question that Paul Farmer and I kept asking each other all the time: With all this privilege, with this fantastic education that we've gotten, what is the nature of our responsibility to the rest of the world? And of course we decided, for the last 20-some years, that our responsibility was to try to move resources to the poor and to set up health-care programs so that even the poorest people can have access to health care.

What makes a great leader?

I have to say that when I have been in the presence of great leaders -- it wasn't just that you could do a little checklist, you could actually smell it on them, you just knew that these are people who made really tough decisions in the past. And these were people who had inspired others to do extraordinary things. You know at Dartmouth College, I have the great privilege of being around fantastic leaders.

Ed Haldeman is the chair of our board, he's taken over the job of running Freddie Mac. This is a man who's been so successful in his life, he didn't have to do any other job, but he took on Freddie Mac cause he thought this was something he had to do for his country. Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, I think is one of the greatest leaders I've ever seen and to be able to just be with him once in a while and see how he handles situations has been great. President Clinton is a fantastic leader, and I've had the privilege of working with him on several different projects.

They all have very different leadership styles, but they have the quality of walking into a room and somehow taking responsibility. Now, that responsibility might be to enliven the room by talking or that responsibility might be to hold the people together so they don't kill each other or that responsibility might be to very quiet because you as a hugely well-known person walk into a room, but your role right at that time is to be quiet so that the person we're honoring for example shines.

It's not just charisma, it's not just the people who can produce interesting banter, it's people who will take responsibility for a situation and move it to a place better than it was before. That is something for every single person to aspire to.

Transcribed and edited by Fahima Haque.

By On Leadership video transcripts

 |  March 30, 2010; 2:12 PM ET
Category:  Teaching Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

I guess I am lost as to why the word "white" was referred to in the topic, but there was nothing to show where this was explained more.

My question is why, when confronted with being called white, because you are Asian, did you not correct the natives?

Second, the only thing I see is someone who patted themselves on their back without showing any performance results.

Posted by: wlockhar | April 1, 2010 11:25 AM
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