“In Japan, there’s a common belief that narrowness gets you further,” says Maeda. “If you grow your mountain with breadth, the mountain doesn’t get high; when you focus, you grow a thin but high mountain. Leadership requires you to respond with multiple intelligences, so breadth is critical.”
In his worldview, training for leadership starts with the hands and goes to the brain. “Nothing’s lost in the hand-to-realization process,” he says. “Nothing is hidden.” He thinks of himself as an artist, an administrator, and a creative leader who leads through “inspiration rather than fear, experimentation and iteration versus finality, networks rather than strict hierarchies.” He says, “I live in beta, open to change.”
Maeda says he learned about leadership from Vest. “When Chuck Vest came, he walked around for a year with a notepad, listening to people. I did that,” he says. “You realize that a lot of things are not broken. So I’ve been looking at the strengths and asking, how do we get stronger?”
Doing the Right Thing
Bacow, too, draws inspiration from Vest, who taught him the importance of “doing the right thing,” he says. “It’s usually not that difficult to figure out what it is, but it’s often excruciatingly difficult to do.” He cites the way Vest successfully handled the 1991 antitrust suit that the U.S. Department of Justice brought against MIT and other top schools for sharing student financial-aid information. Unlike other institutions, MIT did not sign a consent decree agreeing to stop the practice, because “Chuck thought that would take away financial aid from the people who needed it the most.” Ultimately, the suit was dropped.
“Really effective leaders make their leadership about the institution and not about themselves,” Bacow says. “My job–the entire administration’s job–is to enable the richest possible collaboration between students and faculty.”
Bacow plans to leave the Tufts presidency and return to teaching this fall. “My MIT undergraduate education was a fabulous preparation for what I’m doing–first of all, because it was truly a liberal education,” he says. “And MIT teaches you that nothing is so complicated that you can’t eventually come to understand it if you just plug away at it. MIT alumni are not easily intimidated.”