Leadership is not about ego, limelight or autocracy. At the heart of a great leader is humility, graciousness and an appreciative spirit.
Lloyd Lewan, Ph.D., and chairman of Lewan & Associates, an office equipment dealership, shared those thoughts and many more at the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship in the CU Denver Business School. A full room turned out for his “Dare to be a Leader” presentation on Wednesday afternoon.
In introducing Lewan, Madhavan Parthasarathy, Ph.D., director of the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship, said Lewan successfully blends academia and entrepreneurship. Lewan is founder and chairman of the board of Semester at Sea, an international ship board study program for college students. For four years, 1977 to 1980, Semester at Sea was hosted by the University of Colorado Boulder. It is now hosted by the University of Virginia.
Lewan said Semester at Sea is an entrepreneur’s answer to higher education. He has been around the world almost 40 times with 25,000 students. Despite his love of globe trotting, “nothing is more important to me than leadership,” said Lewan, who has written three books on the subject and is a popular speaker.
Excellent leadership is needed more than ever, Lewan said, but it’s antithetical to human nature. “Most people leave their jobs for lack of leadership — not salary, not anything else,” he said. “I have to fight every instinct I have — anger, jealousy, fear, frustration and many more — to practice leadership.”
Great leaders know how to free people, he said. “That’s the key to a great leader — your ability to free others. What do we do with our children? We want to free them to pass us by. .. Nothing give me more joy than to see the people I’ve led pass me by.”
He said institutions and corporations have a lot of management, but not necessarily a lot of great leadership. Strong leaders prefer to stay on the wings, he noted.
“In the end, the only way you’re going to reach me is if I can trust your motive toward me,” Lewan said. “Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Saddham Hussein, Idi Amin. People always ask me, ‘Were they leaders?’ Absolutely not. Why? Because their motive was impure. In the end, it’s your motive.”
Lewan considers Desmond Tutu, a South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, one of the world’s great leaders. Tutu embodies graciousness and being at peace. “Leadership requires you to be gracious,” he said. “I’ve met many world leaders and the really great ones are always gracious, even if we don’t agree with each other.”
Lewan & Associates was listed as one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation in 1984, Lewan said. Of the 500 companies on that list 30 years ago, only three remain, including Lewan & Associates. “Change is part of entrepreneurship. That’s why we love it,” he said. “Leadership is critical to change because bureaucrats don’t like to change.”
Lewan’s appearance was a joint presentation between the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship and the Institute for International Business at the CU Denver Business School.
(Photo: Lloyd Lewan talks about daring to be a great leader at the CU Denver Business School.)