John Fry on leadership: Try it, see if you like it

Drexel president John A. Fry (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)

Lots of stuff is written about leadership, but there's one way to see whether you have what it takes.

"Try it," said Drexel University president John A. Fry during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer. "Find a place to lead and start to lead. If there’s a void, fill it.

"I don’t think you can learn leadership from reading books or attending lectures. In your community, if you are a student at Drexel, or someone living in Mantua and there’s an issue that you are not happy with and there’s a group forming to deal with it, get involved. Pick a spot. Be a leader and see what your constitution is like for leadership because leadership is a really hard and difficult thing to do.

"You have to be very self-conscious, you have to be very willing to subordinate your ego. You have to be big on giving people all the credit, because they usually respond to that. There are a lot of benefits, but there is a lot of work and it's not always intuitive. For the most part, the way you become a leader is that you lead. And if you are good at it, you get more opportunities to lead and one day you get to say, ` Hey, I’m really doing something that’s significant here.’"

So just plunge in?

"It's a totally applied art," he replied.

Another tip: "Watch other leaders carefully. I read six newspapers a day – that’s my primary research and development time," Fry said. "I don’t just read about education. I read about what people are doing. I read about all the complicated problems we have abroad and domestically and I read about the arts and science. I read because I’m interested in the topics, but I really read to figure out how are people handling this stuff. It gives me constant inspiration and ideas and also cautionary tales about how to avoid certain situations.

"You lead by starting to lead," he said, "but you also lead by watching, learning and applying."