USC News

Menu Search

Schaeffer defines leadership at USC Price Distinguished Lecture

Leonard Schaeffer at Doheny Memorial Library
Leonard Schaeffer discusses leadership at USC Price's Judge Widney Distinguished Lecture at Doheny Memorial Library. (Photo/Tom Queally)

Will leaders, managers or analysts shape the future? This was the critical question that USC professor Leonard D. Schaeffer posed during the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy’s Judge Widney Distinguished Lecture on April 10 at Doheny Memorial Library.

As founding chairman and CEO of WellPoint, the nation’s largest health benefits company, and a leader in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, Schaeffer spoke from decades of experience. He currently serves as holder of the Judge Robert Maclay Widney Chair at USC and is a senior adviser to TPG Capital, a private equity firm. Schaeffer provided the operating gift to launch the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, a research collaboration between USC Price and the USC School of Pharmacy.

Schaeffer began his presentation with a frank evaluation of how institutions respond to change.

“The fact is, in my experience, that they don’t do it very well,” he said. “Large institutions actively resist change. Most labor-intensive organizations institutionalize their way of doing things, and then that’s what they do.”

The environment continually transforms due to shifts in science and technology, demographics, culture, the economy and public policy. When organizations don’t change with the times, they tend to die or diminish over the years, he noted.

“To survive and prosper, organizations and institutions have to reinvent themselves in a manner that’s not only not the way they always did it but in a way that’s consistent with the changing environment,” Schaeffer said.

It takes special types of people to move large, change-resistant organizations in the right direction, said Schaeffer, who evaluated the various roles people play in organizations in his detailed typology of leadership.

Schaeffer began with the types who work alone or in small groups: individual contributors who do their own work, conceptualizers who influence people with their ideas and analysts who evaluate courses of action and make recommendations. “There’s a huge difference, though, between performing an analysis and having something happen as a result,” he said.

When it comes to management, most people are administrators who watch other people work and only intervene when there’s a problem, according to Schaeffer. But in his definition, real managers don’t just watch, they instruct. They develop strategies along with detailed plans and budgets to implement them. “Real managers are rare, and they are people who change the physical reality of how an organization operates to achieve a pre-established goal,” he said.

True leaders, he said, are even less common, and they possess an entirely different skill set than detail-orientated, rigorous managers. As Schaeffer explained, “leaders are people who have a vision of the future that is so compelling and is communicated so persuasively that other people take action to achieve that vision.”

Leaders possess authenticity and a genuine belief in the value and rightness of their visions. Through their confidence, they inspire other people to achieve these big-picture goals. Their ability to focus on results, not process, is crucial when an organization becomes too big to manage.

Once in a while, a rare type of person ascends to power – what Schaeffer referred to as a symbolic leader. He defined symbolic leaders as people “who inspire and motivate others not by giving specific orders but by embodying certain traits or calling for a desired state that they represent. They are almost the physical embodiment of what they hope to achieve.”

In the face of complex, overwhelming challenges, such as the national debt, natural disasters, the global economic crisis or severe human rights violations, leaders or even symbolic leaders can be crucial. From John F. Kennedy to Winston Churchill, these individuals can motivate people to do everything from sending a man to the moon to defeating the Nazis during World War II.

“On the global or even the national stage, this isn’t about analyzing or managing our way out of it,” Schaeffer said. “This is about inspiring other people. What we need is a set of leaders or symbolic leaders. And it seems to me that citizens can and should demand that elected officials articulate a vision and act consistently to achieve that vision.”

Schaeffer defines leadership at USC Price Distinguished Lecture

Top stories on USC News