What It Takes to Lead

NYU Law’s Leadership Mindset brings members of the vanguard to campus to illustrate powerful leadership concepts for students.

This year, the Law School’s Leadership Mindset, a signature initiative that encompasses intensive training, specialized programs, events, mentor relationships, and other exposures to ethical and inclusive leadership concepts, hosted two conversations featuring successful leaders.

In January, Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG); Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters; and Rocco Landesman, president emeritus of Jujamcyn, discussed how individual leadership styles can benefit from incorporating an unlikely concept: love.

In his 2006 memoir and business guide, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, Meyer advocated developing a workplace culture of “enlightened hospitality” that emphasizes employee satisfaction. Prioritizing employee happiness, he said, creates a “virtuous cycle,” since that in turn boosts customer and investor satisfaction.

Landesman agreed with the need for fostering an esprit de corps. “Creating a loving experience starts right at home with having an organization where, from the top down, people feel that they’re valued and that people care about them.”

As employees internalize a positive work culture and the experience that a company wants to convey—its “authentic voice,” as Roth called it—they can also interact more effectively with customers. “The result of inverting the leadership pyramid is we are creating a company of leaders,” Roth said. “Because when that theatergoer has a problem with their ticket, I’m not there, Rocco’s not there, and the house manager may not be there. The usher who is there is the leader of our company at that moment for our customer.”

In theater and dining, caring about the customer’s experience is crucial, yet the conversation’s participants maintained that having these emotional skills—which Meyer calls a person’s “hospitality quotient”—is key for lawyers as well. As Roth put it, “I don’t know any business that isn’t a hospitality business.” Just as theaters and restaurants need to create positive experiences, lawyers need to make sure clients feel that they are “on their side.”

A second conversation in March featured John Sexton, president emeritus of NYU and dean emeritus of the Law School, and University Professor Anna Deavere Smith. Playing off their long relationship, the two explored the connection between leadership and storytelling with Vice Dean Jeannie Forrest.

“What is your narrative, and how can you bring that forward when you’re hanging out your shingle?” Smith asked the lawyers in the room. “What is the truth that your journey has led you to? Why should I trust you to be my lawyer—or be my actor, or be my director? Because you’ve really learned something that’s going to make this engagement with you worthwhile.”

For a leader, however, knowing one’s own story is not enough. “It’s very well and good to know your narrative, but you have to observe the desire of someone else in order to bring them along,” Smith said, recalling the effectiveness of Sexton’s argument to bring her to NYU.

Sexton, acknowledging his long-standing reputation for talking big, recalled how, as both a new dean and a new president, he had encountered skepticism. But, he added, there was “a small group who would say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m beginning to get his story. And I don’t know whether I believe it yet, but I now have come to the point where I know he believes it.’ And so now you’re in the position where you’re saying to people, ‘Come along with me, but I’m giving it my life.’ So your narrative of who you are becomes blended with the professional mission that you have.” 

Posted September 2, 2016