Rice U. receives $50M for leadership development

Leadership expert from Yale and West Point will head new institute funded by largest gift in school’s history.

leadership-riceRice University is planning an unconventional approach to developing students into leaders with a $50 million gift from venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife, Ann, through their private family foundation.

Retired Brig. Gen. Tom Kolditz, who has headed leadership training at Yale and West Point, will direct the Doerr Institute for New Leaders to maximize the leadership capabilities of all students at Rice.

The Doerr Institute for New Leaders will offer each student an innovative combination of proven, timeless techniques together with modern, next-generation practices. The strengths of each student will be assessed and their potential will be developed in a four-year comprehensive, custom-made plan of classroom instruction, hands-on, real-world experience and guidance from personal coaches.

(Next page: Three measurable goals)

Kolditz said leader development at Rice will have three measurable goals: to deliver new knowledge and skills, to accelerate the lessons learned from experience and to increase reflection, self-awareness and leadership identity among students.

John Doerr said he considers leadership at Rice to be a wise investment in the future.

“Millennials want to see the big picture and their role in it, get frequent feedback and be empowered — not micromanaged,” he said. “Now more than ever, the pressing problems of our nation and world need great teams and great leaders. Ideas are easy; executing those ideas with a well-led team is paramount. New leaders must be inclusive, self-aware and great listeners who are attuned to the needs of their teams.”

A hallmark of the Doerr Institute is its focus on cultural and global diversity and inclusion.
“Tomorrow’s leaders will be more diverse, adapting varied styles to serve diverse teams, tackling challenges in even more diverse communities,” John said.

Ann Doerr said previous contributions to the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL) have been successful with leadership training of engineering students. For example, a large number of Engineers Without Borders project team leaders are RCEL students who have done work in Nicaragua and Honduras. Ann and John would like all students to have the opportunity to become successful leaders regardless of their major.

“Throughout our lives and on any given day we are both leaders and followers,” she said. “The Doerr Institute’s goal is to train each student to become an effective leader. A true leader needs the skills to evaluate the goal, understand its validity, succinctly articulate it and then lead with deep compassion, moral integrity and empathy.”

“Most of a person’s capacity to lead is learned,” Kolditz said. Seventy percent of that is gained through experience, not classrooms, so the opportunities to lead teams at Rice are essential to the success of the Doerr Institute, he said. Self-reflection also has a significant impact, so it’s important that students are matched with advisers who can coach and direct them to ask thoughtful, analytical questions about their goals and performance, he said.

Leaders will be developed with technology both from existing educational software and apps as well as from the design of original digital tools.

Kolditz cautioned against having one leadership style.

“We want to give students the ability to be effective wherever they are going to lead,” he said. “Style suggests a consistent way to behave, but we want to teach students to be adaptive in the way they lead people. A failure to lead is a failure to adapt.”

The real-world leadership opportunities provided by this new effort are an integral component of Rice’s Initiative for Students, a three-year volunteer engagement and fundraising effort creating opportunities for hands-on experiences that allow students to apply their analytical, entrepreneurial and leadership skills. Rice students have indicated that they highly value this type of learning, and the university has made such experiences for students a priority.

“Higher education today is in a period of great transformation,” Leebron said. “Residential college and graduate education must be life-changing.” He noted that the Doerr Institute will say to every student at Rice, “You are here because you can be a great leader, and our job is to make sure your Rice experience enables you to fully realize that potential.”

Kolditz said that after four years in the Doerr Institute for New Leaders, Rice students should have the knowledge and skills to continue to develop their leadership abilities after graduation. Rice will survey graduates and follow their progress and use that information to fine-tune the institute in the years ahead.

By collecting data from Rice and eventually from across the country, the Doerr Institute will become the source for identifying the most effective practices in innovative education for new leaders, Kolditz said.

“Bravo to Ann and John Doerr for their devotion to their alma mater and their tremendous gift to the university for leadership development,” said Retired Gen. Colin Powell, who will present the commencement address at Rice on May 16. “The Doerr Institute will provide Rice University students a unique opportunity to develop their leadership skills and be prepared and eager to take on the challenges facing them when they graduate.”

With an enrollment of approximately 3,900 undergraduate students and 2,600 graduate students, Rice will be graduating more than 1,000 new leaders each year, which should have a significant cumulative impact on the world as time progresses, Kolditz said.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione

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