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Fall 2002
Vol. 65, No. 1

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When asked to define it, even those who study leadership and who study people widely considered to be leaders turn first to examples.

"A leader is someone like . . ." begins the definition. Or, "A leader is someone who. . . ."

Then the names-some well known, some not so well known-tumble forth. Out of that, the common characteristics start to emerge: ambition, brains (but not necessarily genius), drive, concern for others, energy. . . .

But, says Richard F. Fenno Jr., Distinguished University Professor and Kenan Professor of Political Science-and himself one of the nation's leading scholars of Congress (an entire subset of leaders unto itself)-a key element in defining leadership is a person's social and cultural environment.

"It is difficult to say how much of leadership has to do with personal characteristics and how much has to do with context," Fenno says. "A leader usually doesn't stand up in the middle of nowhere."

And leaders usually have a solid, but often invisible, support system that has helped nurture their talents, says Nora Bredes, director of the Anthony Center for Women's Leadership.

Such personal contexts, she says, have traditionally been overlooked by historians and in popular perceptions of leadership. The center, which helps teach and promote leadership among women, uses the friendship between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as a prime example. Together, Stanton and Anthony achieved leadership roles beyond what they could have alone.

"We try to look at relationships," says Bredes, who as a former state legislator has seen many variations of leadership in action. "Leadership happens in a lot of small ways that sometimes are less visible."

Visible or not, leadership is, at its essence, what happens between people. Between parents and children, teachers and students, colleagues and coworkers, executives and employees, governors and governed.

Is there a more fertile context for exploring that human interaction than a university such as Rochester?

Rochester has long challenged students to find a sense of themselves in the world and to find a sense of engagement with their fellow human beings across a broad spectrum of relationships.

Inspired by the theme for the College's annual Meliora Weekend, October 11-13, Rochester Review set out to chronicle some examples of the ways that Rochester provides the context for leadership-exemplified by those who hope to become leaders in their academic fields or their communities as well as by those who already have achieved such status.

Our sample spotlights just a few students, faculty, and alumni from the many possible examples within the University family. (Do you have an example of a Rochester-related leader? Please write to us, and we'll publish them as we can in upcoming issues. The address is Rochester Review, 147 Wallis Hall, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627-0033; e-mail:

We, too, found that leadership is often easy to spot but difficult to characterize. We were impressed, though, with how many examples there are to choose from at Rochester.

"Leadership is where you find it," says Fenno. "And you will find it everywhere."


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