‘King Lear’

June 18, 2017

Leslie E. Wong
At the first seminar I attended on educational leadership, decades ago, we were asked what we had read that had influenced our desire to lead or how we led. Most participants named nonfiction books on leadership, so when I said King Lear, the only example from literature, it seemed like an oddball response.

In the years since then, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread King Lear. Shakespeare’s tragedy reminds me that it would be impossible to lead and inspire if you didn’t trust those around you, nor they you. Or, worse, that you had placed your trust in the wrong people.

I have since given King Lear to most of my mentees, and to first-time provosts who have chosen to work alongside me. Why? With all seriousness, I tell them, "If I can’t trust you, I don’t need you." I also ask that they see me in that same light. There will be trying times, as there are today, when we need to work together to solve problems. Effective teamwork comes from a sense of trust that can arise only from a deliberate effort to uphold it. And where trust thrives, so do innovation, sustained performance, and good thinking.

Leslie E. Wong is president of San Francisco State University.