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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

The best and brightest

Q: Elena Kagan's nomination has raised the prospect of an "all-Ivy" Supreme Court. Is it a good idea for any institution, or any sector of society, to rely so heavily on a handful of elite universities to educate and train its leaders?

The desire to attract the best-and-brightest talent is a trait shared by public and private sector institutions alike. As such, it's no surprise that so many of our leaders in government and industry hail from the top colleges and universities that assemble their student bodies in much the same way.

A demonstrated commitment not only to scholarship but to doing something of substance with one's education is the price of admission to the most prestigious schools - and that's precisely what employers across the full spectrum of the American experience look for in those they choose to lead.

To some, the fact that graduates of only a handful elite colleges and universities comprise the Supreme Court could raise concerns about the diversity of viewpoints and experiences on the bench. But to argue that point is to ignore the vast diversity of viewpoints and experiences that exist on these campuses. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the like are not judging applicants based on race, gender, sexual orientation, geography, or socioeconomic status; they want students with the drive and ability to change the world for the better - no matter where they come from or how they were raised. In fact, ensuring that students are exposed to a wide range of perspectives - from both their peers and their professors - is a fundamental goal of most top-tier universities.

Of course, sound leadership in a board room or in any governmental capacity is often less about educational pedigree and more about what a leader has done with his or her education since entering the professional world. But, here too, graduates of top educational institutions have a leg up because they are often the most likely to be afforded opportunities to involve themselves in the challenging and innovative pursuits that best prepare a future leader to one day take the reins.

All that said, there is no reason that our public and private sector leaders can't come from any of the thousands of institutions that provide a quality education these days. And it should be noted that limiting a leadership search to only the top schools inevitably excludes qualified candidates. But, at the end of the day, I find it hard to imagine that there is any inherent danger in building a leadership structure that is comprised of the most talented people an organization can find. If they all hold degrees from America's most prestigious universities, so be it.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  May 18, 2010; 2:29 PM ET
Category:  Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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By that logic, Goodwin, I wouldn't mind seeing a West Pointer or Navy JAG as a Supreme.

Its true that you want the best talent, and that often times it comes from our best universities. But to cluster so much power in the hands of those with a very narrow experience that is alien to 98% of Americans, it creates a distinction that is as much real as apparent.

A Justice committed to the Constitution's construct of limitation of government which maximizes liberty, but who can also throw back a beer and shot at a VFW would be a nice change of pace.

I don't see Ms. Kagan doing it, or enjoying it she did.

Posted by: CoughlinC | May 18, 2010 10:42 PM
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