I often reflect on my late father’s capacity to forgive, to accept, and to engage with anybody, no matter their rank or status. He was driven by a profound humanitarian conviction that all people are capable of goodness, growth, and change. I also admired my late mother, who was an artist as well as a teacher and interfaith minister. She inspired me to embrace creativity and to make every situation more beautiful and more original no matter the circumstances.
We spoke with Ian Solomon about the views and experiences that shaped his approach to leadership.
Every athlete knows the benefits of competing with people who play better than you. Every musician knows you need to work on pieces that are above your level of performance. The same is true for leaders: We need to go beyond our comfort zone, and when we do that, sometimes we are going to fail. Failure is an opportunity to learn. Every conversation that goes wrong, every negotiation that leaves us dissatisfied, every team that misses its goal—all can be opportunities for reflection, learning, and understanding. Leadership starts, first and foremost, with understanding yourself.
I went to South Africa expecting to do two months of research, and I stayed for a year to witness the transformation of a country. I went to McKinsey expecting to spend two years as an analyst, and I stayed for a third year to manage an economic development project in Harlem. I went rollerblading one sunny Sunday in Central Park, and that day I met the woman who has been my wife for 20 years. I went to law school expecting to be there for the typical three years and stayed for six years because I had the opportunity to be associate dean. I left Yale to go work on Capitol Hill for an inspiring junior senator from Illinois, and that senator ran four years later to become the 44th president of the United States. Each part of my journey has been unexpected. I’m grateful for opportunities to embrace serendipity, to get off the treadmill, to respond to inspiration.
There is a philosophy in Southern Africa called “Ubuntu”—roughly translated as “I am because we are.” It reminds us that our humanity is interconnected and mutually dependent. We share a common humanity, and we can learn so much about ourselves by being with others, by paying attention to others, by serving others. I believe that interacting with people around the world has expanded my comfort zone, strengthened my empathy, and humbled me. It has also been fun, and I’ve made friends who enrich my life.
Ian H. Solomon became the dean of the Batten School on September 1, 2019. In addition to his position as dean, Solomon is also a professor of practice. Originally from New York City, he is a devoted husband and father of two with a passion for building the capacity of leaders to address today’s most pressing policy issues. With experience in business sector, nonprofit sector, government, and higher education, Solomon’s multifaceted career, demonstrates the many synergies between leadership and public policy