Leadership to Inspire Global Change
Julio Frenk, MPH ’81, PhD ’83
President of the University of Miami
Ahead of the Curve is a new speaker series from the University of Michigan School of Public Health that will bring conversations about public health leadership to our campus and beyond. Leadership is a critical component of navigating complex public health challenges and building a better future through improved health and equity.
Dean Bowman. We are experiencing important leadership lessons firsthand as we watch the novel coronavirus affect all corners of the world. As problems become increasingly complex, we must turn our attention and resources to developing leaders, building on the well-known assertion of Warren Bennis—eminent scholar in the study of leadership—that leaders are made rather than born. Throughout this series, we will bring contemporary leaders from a variety of sectors to share their insights, vision, and experiences so we can learn more about how great leaders evolve and grow and how we can prepare and support new generations of leaders.
We’re delighted to welcome Dr. Julio Frenk to Ahead of the Curve. Frenk serves as President of the University of Miami and is a proud alum of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
From global and national politics to life on college campuses, leaders influence our lives. The richness of prominent leaders’ careers often cannot be captured fully by their current position. The arc of your career has certainly been a remarkable one. You’ve worn many significant hats in different sectors and in different capacities. Please tell us about your path to becoming President of the University of Miami.
Julio Frenk. It is a pleasure to come back to my alma mater. I’m so grateful to everything I received from the University of Michigan in the five glorious years I lived in Ann Arbor. So it is an honor for me to participate in this discussion. I’m grateful for the question, because truly our full CV is closer to our biography and can explain more about who you are than only the job you have now.
My family on my father’s side were refugees. They were forced to leave their home country of Germany in the 1930s, escaping from the Nazi oppression. They found a country that was much more—not from an economic and material point of view—but much richer in what matters most. That country was Mexico. My father was six years old and arrived with his parents, my grandparents, and his one sibling—my aunt. So they started anew, in country where they didn't know anyone, didn’t speak the language. One of the motivations in life has been the idea of the generosity of strangers. It is easy to be generous to your family and friends. The real test of generosity is when you’re generous to strangers. And Mexico was very generous to my family—it saved their lives and made my own life possible.
For me and my siblings, the overriding concept we were brought up with is a strong sense of debt of gratitude. And that's been my driving force—How do you give back? How do you reciprocate the generosity of strangers by doing something that’s meaningful for people who you may never meet but where you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing something that will help them?
I wanted to see patients. But more than that, I wanted society to be my patient, which is the way I think about public health.
I have found my vehicle to that through health care and through higher education—my two avenues to fulfill that dream. I went to medical school and am the fourth generation on the Frenk side to be a physician. Becoming a physician is a genetic risk factor for us, as I have followed in the footsteps of my father—who has been a great inspiration to me—along with his father and my great-grandfather.
When I was in medical school, I decided I would pursue a career in public health. I wanted to see patients. But more than that, I wanted society to be my patient, which is the way I think about public health. Fortunately, I found that space at Michigan, where I spent four years as a student and one year on the faculty.
At that point, I had a promising career in academia—I was already an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. But I was called back to Mexico by an inspirational Minister of Health who was launching some reforms. And I had the opportunity to start what eventually became the National Institute of Public Health. I had the privilege of founding that organization, which today is considered the leading institution in higher education and research on public health in any developing country.
From there, I went to the World Health Organization. I was called back to Mexico to serve as Secretary of Health at the federal level, and during a historic moment served in that capacity for a full administration of six years. That time in public service was very satisfying. Then I went back to academia. I came back to the United States as dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and from there was invited to be considered for the position of president at the University of Miami. By then I was very interested in the role of higher education broadly.
So my life has oscillated between health care and higher education, between life in the academy and life in the policymaking world. But the unifying theme, though it appears as a disparate set of positions, has been this overriding idea of giving back, of serving, of recognizing that I would not be alive had it not been for the generosity of people who didn’t know me and didn’t know my family but made our lives possible. That's why I’m trying to pay back.
Bowman. With the distinct positions you’ve held and the tremendous success you’ve had in those positions, what role did your education play in preparing you for these careers and giving you the ability to move through different types of careers?
Frenk. The best decision I ever made was to attend the University of Michigan. I had read the work of Avedis Donabedian, the most outstanding figure in the field of quality of care. I was very interested in issues of health care and quality and I wanted to study with him. Avedis became my mentor. He taught me all the essential things I needed. Avedis was a scholar, a true scholar. The breadth of his wisdom was amazing.
So I learned a lot about health care. But that’s not what I got from my education. Having some factual, foundational knowledge is important. But Avedis taught me how to think in a rigorous, systematic way that includes both rigor in adherence to evidence but also includes ethical reasoning as a way of thinking about health care—because healthcare is so fraught with ethical questions. I had other outstanding professors—Rashid Bashshur, who to this day is a dear friend. I met some of my lifelong friends. We were classmates, and those are friendships that last your entire life.
But having a mentor in those formational years is absolutely crucial. And Avedis guided me to one of the great strengths of Michigan, which was and is its flexibility. I ended up doing a joint PhD with the department Health Management and Policy and in the department of Sociology in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. This duality was incredibly enriching. The experience was truly tailor-made to my needs and interests. And it allowed me to do everything I have done—including that career plasticity, as I call it. Because I didn't become a narrow specialist but rather had this training in how to think about and how to address problems, I've been able to move from the world of policy to the world of academia and academic administration. I have many degrees—three from Michigan, including a joint PhD—and am very proud of that.
Bowman. How does your public health training inform your leadership at the University of Miami, especially as you’ve led a large institution during a time of the intersecting public health crises of racism and COVID-19?
Frenk. If ever there was a time to benefit from the training I had, this was it. But my education at Michigan has helped me not only in the pandemic. With this idea of career plasticity, I’ll mention that, when I did it, my experience as a joint doctoral student was unusual. But today this kind of flexibility is becoming the dominant path. No longer do we have fixed lanes in our career paths. We need this flexibility, this creativity, to seek opportunities and take advantage of them.
Career plasticity will be the dominant feature as our graduates face the most dynamic labor market in history. They will need critical thinking, ethical reasoning, the ability to communicate persuasively, and teamwork. These themes attracted me to becoming a university president.
We’re at the threshold of an educational revolution. Already the education I received in the 1980s at the University of Michigan was ahead of its time. It prepared me exactly for the type of reality that our graduates see today, graduating into a very dynamic labor market where conditions are changing all the time because of automation, artificial intelligence, and other factors.
Public health training gives you exactly this ability—thinking in a dynamic way so you understand that your current circumstances are determined by past events and will shape what lies ahead.
So my public health training helped me a lot even before this year. But during this pandemic, it's been absolutely crucial—the ability to understand and think about populations dynamically, understanding the fundamentals of epidemiology. And I would highlight that, when we were trying to decide between in-person or online instruction, I did a very rigorous comparative-risk analysis.
And in that, my ability to look at data—to understand patterns, to know that today’s case load reflects decisions made two weeks ago—was crucial. I needed to understand what had happened before to understand where we were now to project where we’re going. Public health training gives you exactly this ability—thinking in a dynamic way so you understand that your current circumstances are determined by past events and will shape what lies ahead. It allows you to do this sort of prospective planning.
And that was the key for us. I believe in public health. We decided there was risk in reopening, for sure, but that if we follow the science, we could do so safely. We invested a lot of money in reconfiguring spaces, changing filtration systems, producing rigorous protocols like mandatory face coverings, regular testing, and contact tracing. We applied everything we knew were able to have a successful, mostly-in-person semester. We did give students a choice, and some students—those with underlying medical conditions and many international students—didn’t really have a choice. But about 75% of our students were able to have a healthy, secure, successful semester, with some cases but with a robust system for testing, tracing, and mitigating risk.
This reaffirmed for me that public health works. When you adhere to the science and you avoid the politicization of these basic mitigation measures—which has been a sad part of how the larger society has handled it—you can manage to do this.
As you say, it’s been a unique year beyond the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis triggered an economic crisis, both of which brought to life a social crisis stemming from deep inequalities and racial injustice. Handling all of that has required a lot of very focused leadership, and my experience at Michigan helped me enormously to succeed.
Bowman. In talking about a public health approach as you developed concrete plans for safely reopening a campus, you alluded to it being not a challenge in isolation but a balancing of safety on one hand with fulfilling your institution’s mission to provide education. How did you think about the coupling of those two things?
Frenk. One of the attributes of good leadership is to try to strike adequate balances. You have to understand that, when you’re dealing with complex situations, there are no perfect solutions. It is never an all-or-nothing situation. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was so much we didn't know. Like every university in spring of 2020, we pivoted quickly to finish the semester fully online. Then came the dilemma of what to do after the summer. And the idea was to balance the richness of in-person instruction with the risks of the pandemic.
But a lot of the discussion seemed to suggest that all the risk was concentrated in opening up campuses for students, as if having students stay at home was a risk-free alternative. And I spent countless hours—literally, of the day and of the night—thinking about this. And I concluded that there was risk also in not welcome coming students back.
For our students—primarily an undergraduate institution—this is a moment they've been waiting for. It’s when they leave home and begin their journeys as adults in our society. Many of them had already rented apartments and homes across the street from campus. As I thought about it carefully, I realized we were trying mostly to reduce social interactions where there was high risk of exposure to the virus. But keeping students of campus—though an easy solution for us—did not mean that they would be living their lives risk-free.
We have been in this false dilemma between protecting people’s health or reactivating the economy. These two objectives go in synergy. You have to think about them together.
In the end I concluded, in that balance of risk—with a third of our students not going to be on campus at all, giving us a chance to de-densify—that offering the opportunity could work. We instituted very careful protocols, rigorous testing, and started—like the University of Michigan—a program of public health ambassadors, peer students trained to respectfully but firmly provide positive peer pressure to other students so that they complied with what we were doing. Then millions of dollars were invested in rearranging spaces and increasing air change and filtration. Like Michigan we have a superb music program, the applied side of which is high-risk, especially for wind players and singers. We changed all of the air handling systems.
The idea was, if you do this the right way, it is possible. And it is a message for the larger society. We have been in this false dilemma between protecting people’s health or reactivating the economy. These two objectives go in synergy. You have to think about them together. And if you do things the right way, you can reopen safely. The problem was, too many places opened too soon and too carelessly without instituting the necessary protocols.
I believed that, in a more controlled environment, we could do it—carefully, very carefully and very cautiously. And we were able to do it. We had cases, of course. And we knew we would have cases. But we were never overwhelmed. And we had zero cases—we could not document a single case—of classroom transmission. Some transmission happened in the dorms. Most transmission occurred off campus. The vast majority of students complied, and by that, I literally mean 98%. With a virus that’s highly contagious, that other 2% can be dangerous, of course.
But if we had just decided to keep our doors closed—which probably would have been an easier solution—first of all, I would have been denying that I believe in science and in public health. Because if I believe in science and we apply the public health properly, then we can do this safely.
More importantly, by closing our doors, I would have been sending a terrible message that we couldn’t trust students in that generation of 18-24 years. If you think historically, these are the people who have fought almost all wars and who have been leaders of social movements, activists who risked their lives for civil rights, equality, and many other causes. And with that in mind, I couldn’t say that I don’t trust young people to sacrifice the social aspects of their education—which is a sacrifice, because social development is an important part of the college experience. But we’re asking them to sacrifice for a higher objective, which is the rest of the educational experience. Saying that we couldn’t trust our students in this context to me meant giving up on young people—and I thought that was just not right.
So we trusted. We tried to inspire students to do the right thing. We used positive peer pressure. And for the minority who did not follow the rules, we did institute sanctions—including expulsion or the right to be on campus—if you couldn’t live up to the trust that was placed in you.
By and large, it was a good experience driven by these considerations and driven by a public health mindset.
Bowman. The pandemic has drawn out this tension between individual interests and liberties and contributions to the collective good. The most effective leaders are those able to motivate and inspire individuals toward a shared vision or goal. Can you share a time in your career when it was important to align people, and how did you do it?
Frenk. In any position I’ve had, articulating not the what but the why is so important. Asking “why are we doing this?” is a fundamental element of communication that precedes a proposal for action. This requires identifying a goal that's worth pursuing. And almost all goals worth pursuing involve other people. It’s very hard, unless you’re an incredibly self-centered person, to think only about your own goals. Your own goals are important—and of course you need to take care of yourself as an individual.
But when we as humans connect to something that transcends us, we really fulfill our sense of mission and sense of legacy, of leaving something behind. We are here for a limited period of time, and to me the idea of legacy is the cornerstone of leadership. It's thinking rigorously, “what do I want to leave behind when I am gone?”
Being gone can mean leaving a job. We have terms and transitions. I had six years to be Secretary of Health in Mexico. I started thinking on day one how I could ensure that I leave things behind better than the way I received it. Being purposeful and understanding that legacy is fundamental and that we always build legacies with others. And being able to communicate persuasively about legacy is critical.
When you dig into these comparisons, you find that countries with better results had leaders who sought to unify people around managing the pandemic.
A striking feature of the pandemic is the huge variation in the way that countries of similar economic development differed so widely in the effectiveness of their responses. Same virus, same human species, same level of economic development. Within that, some countries have been able to control the virus very effectively, and others have had a very poor performance in dealing with the virus. When you dig into these comparisons, you find that countries with better results had leaders who sought to unify people around managing the pandemic and had convincingly persuaded everyone that their own individual well-being is dependent on the health of the collective.
The countries that have done the worst have politicized responses to the pandemic. In a consistent pattern around the world, the worst performances have been in countries with populist leaders. And I’m not just talking about the US, because I do not want to politicize this statement. This is around the globe—whether it’s Russia, Turkey, Hungary, India, Brazil, or Mexico—my country now with a populist leader. It is a uniform element because of the essential logic of populism—to identify people we define as others and then quickly blame them for whatever is going on, including the pandemic.
Part of that blaming translated into politicizing public health measures, the most significant being wearing a face covering. This should never have been allowed to happen. Wearing a face covering certainly protects you, but most important, it protects others. By framing masks as an issue of individual freedom without understanding the element of mutuality and reciprocity signified by using a face covering, we perverted the whole debate. This is the exact same reason we do not allow people who are intoxicated to drive. It protects them, but it also protects other people who would otherwise be innocent victims of drunk driving. And we don’t question that. But somehow in the countries that have not done well, we failed to implement some of these measures, and we’re paying a big price for that.
If there’s one lesson we need to convey persuasively, it is connecting people to something bigger. It also happens to be the best way to protect yourself. My own health is hugely dependent on what I do for other people’s health, and nowhere is this more obvious than with infectious diseases.
If we can align enlightened self-interest with generosity and compassion, then we have a very powerful formula for addressing crises.
Bowman. Illuminating health inequities will undoubtedly be a legacy of the pandemic, revealing inequities in many other areas, including education. As we start 2021, how should the field of public health focus its efforts even more broadly to address inequities in higher education.
Frenk. It’s this confluence of three crises and how they interact.
The pandemic triggered it, but the economic crisis has not affected everyone in the same way—so the inequity starts there. Not everyone has the ability to work from home. Many people live day to day financially. Many of the essential workers out risking their lives with higher exposure to the virus are also members of minority populations, people already suffering racial injustice. On top of that, we have the events last summer leading to a reactivation of the cry for racial justice. All of this against the backdrop of very serious polarization, exactly what you don't need in an emergency—divisiveness.
Universities have a huge role in continuing to address this confluence of crises. The public health crisis is the one where we can see an end to it, thanks to the brightest element of this pandemic, which has been the impressive level of cooperation among scientists to produce in record time safe and effective vaccines. This has to stand as an incredible achievement. We now need to match our distribution and logistics to the scientific feat of developing a vaccine.
We are not content dealing with the symptoms or the manifestations of a health problem. We dig deeply into the roots of these social determinants of health
So we can see a light at the end of the pandemic, but we’re still in the middle of the tunnel. And in the middle of that tunnel is another crisis. We cannot think that because the pandemic is over we can go back to where we were before. Because the economic and especially the social crisis are going to outlive the pandemic for many years to come. This is an opportunity—because the pandemic brought to light many fundamental inequities—to really commit ourselves to addressing their root classes.
This is another element of public health. We are not content dealing with the symptoms or the manifestations of a health problem. We dig deeply into the roots of these social determinants of health, and we find that racial discrimination and anti-Black discrimination in the US and other countries is a fundamental root cause.
I strongly believe, and one of my motivations to work at a university, is that universities have to serve as exemplar institutions. This is a very old idea—that this community of scholars and students united by the thirst for knowledge and learning can develop a set of values and adhere to those values to serve as an example for the larger society of which they are a part. If there ever was a time to serve as an exemplar institution, it is now. We need to model for the world, first of all, that we value diversity. It’s not tolerance—it is an embrace of difference.
The difference makes us stronger. Diversity is not just the right thing to pursue from an ethical point of view, which it is. It is also the smart thing to do, because difference allows difference of perspectives. We need to embrace the values of freedom of inquiry and speech, model our ability to disagree respectfully, and show this at a time when civil interaction and discourse has rapidly deteriorated. Allowing ourselves to demonstrate respectful disagreement, the ability to debate ideas, to use reason, to recommit ourselves to truth. We demonstrate that the pursuit of truth is contradictory, dynamic, and constantly changing but that it is not okay to say whatever you want, especially in the public arena—to think it is okay to lie. It’s not okay.
We do have standards to judge the truth content of a statement. We need to show what is our core as universities—we are here in the pursuit of truth. We need to redouble our commitment and show that truth is possible. Truth may not be absolute, but there are standards to judge the truth content of statements. Bring back civility, the ability to interact and disagree, the celebration of difference, inclusiveness, and the relentless pursuit of the equality and opportunity, which are at the root of the ideals of higher education. If we do that, not only will be out of the pandemic and will get over the economic crisis. We may make momentous progress that we haven’t seen since the civil rights movement on addressing the racial justice crisis.
Bowman. For many leaders, the pandemic has brought a relentless pace of complex, challenging work activity. I can only imagine how busy your schedule has been over the last several months. What lessons have you learned about the importance of self-care?
Frenk. It’s crucial to understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Especially when you’re a leader, you have a responsibility to remain healthy, because if you’re not healthy enough to fulfill duties, you put others at even higher risk. It’s a tough one, because we’re all very driven people and tend to work long hours. One liberation has been the inability to travel. And I’m not going back to my travel schedule from before the pandemic—that’s one of the lessons.
There is so much that we can do more productively using technology. Some travel probably is essential, and I look forward to many in-person encounters once we are out of this. But it has created a reservoir of time that I don’t know how I will do without.
Being mindful is important. I try, probably not as much as I should, to take care and to be mindful about my own health—being introspective, being self-aware, understanding when you’re reaching a limit. And then protecting also the team. Leadership is never a solitary thing. There are moments of great loneliness, when you need to make a decision that’s very tough and you own it. You cannot tell anyone that it’s the team. It’s you—it’s on you. Notwithstanding those elements, it is a team effort. Making sure you take care of the team in the service of the larger community is absolutely critical. So I try to take a few moments every day for deliberate exercise in mindfulness, in understanding my own being, staying aware of my own sensations of where I am, being aware of my surroundings, and trying simply to take a five- or 10-minute break to focus on the moment and try not to be consumed by the anxiety of the uncertainty.
Pandemics are defined by their uncertainty. It’s the first time we’re encountering this particular pathogen, there is a lot we don’t know, and you have to be very thoughtful about mastering the anxiety that unavoidably accompanies uncertainty and not let that get the best of you. That requires a lot of focus on what you have at hand, understanding the various elements you need to master that moment, even as you’re thinking about what happened before—we used epidemiologic models extensively—to understand the present and project toward the future.
Once you understand that dynamic, part of taking of yourself is mastering the uncertainty and being very self-aware of your own feeling and accepting your own vulnerability.
When I wear a mask, I'm not showing weakness—I’m showing the strength of caring for others.
Related to the resistance of some political leaders—mostly these populist leaders—to wearing face coverings. It’s a false idea that leaders have to be “strong.” I see this mostly in men. An interesting pattern about the top-performing countries in pandemic response is that you have an overrepresentation of countries where the leaders are women—New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany, Denmark, Norway. And instead, in many countries with poor responses, you find these populist leaders who like to portray themselves as strong men. And that is a false idea of strength. When I wear a mask, I'm not showing weakness—I’m showing the strength of caring for others. Rejecting masks does not prove that you’re invulnerable and won’t get sick. On the contrary, wearing a mask shows that I am strong enough to care for you, to think about you.
We have to rethink what strengths means as a leader. It should not be the alpha-male mindset. That's a common stereotype of leadership. It’s actually your ability to think about others and care about others that provides the inner drive to take care of yourself—because there is something higher that’s calling you to service. Service, along with that sense of legacy, is the other overriding attribute of a good leadership. In my case, that goes back to the story I told at the beginning—the idea of giving back, of serving, which actually is what builds a legacy.
Bowman. You’ve touched on the impact of politics and public health in the context of politics. Your career has a clear global component, with leadership positions in Mexico, the World Health Organization, and different regions of the United States. How do national or regional culture and politics affect how you lead or how others might expect you to lead?
Frenk. There is a lot of cultural specificity to leadership. You will find other societies where it’s not like this gender situation I described. I hope a big lesson of the pandemic—one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic—is that we put to rest forever the idea that women cannot be effective political leaders. They have, in fact, been the best leaders in managing this emergency. So there is a lot of cultural specificity to how leaders are received and what’s expected of them.I like to make a distinction between politics and politicking. Politicking is this caricature of back-stabbing, lying for convenience, and those kinds of behaviors. To me, non-corrupt politics is the art and science of reaching agreement for valued and shared goals. You articulate a goal that is shared and valued. Then you reach compromise and agreement. That is good politics.
And it’s unavoidable. I was asked to serve in the cabinet as Secretary of Health in Mexico not because I was a politician—I did not belong and still do not belong to a political party. I was brought in as an expert. What a crazy idea, right—bring an expert to the cabinet? But President Fox had the idea that—not for all cabinet members but for those that had a strong technical core, like health, environment, education—those secretaries should not be politicians. But I always understood that it was a political job. My way of looking at it was: I am not a professional politician in a health job. I am a health professional in a political job.
If you understand that your ultimate goal is serving others, and you act with integrity, you can make the politics a very dignified part of your job as a leader.
You need to understand that it is a political job. This goes not only for government but for academia as well. You cannot be a president or dean if you do not understand the politics of universities, faculties, and student life. But here again, it’s turning politics into that positive exercise. Again, I hope we rescue that concept of the art and science of reaching agreement through compromise, through respectful disagreement, through finding common ground in order to pursue shared, valued goals. If we do that, the other thing we can support is healing the political landscape, which is so fractured and so much the opposite of what I just described. It’s more politicking than politics.
The key is not to confuse the ends and the means. Politics becomes corrupted when power becomes the end and serves as the means. If you oppose that—if having some power, some control over resources and decisions—becomes the means to a higher end, which is to serve people, then politics is a dignified activity.
For that, you have to have a strong sense of integrity. You don’t do things that your ethical code of conduct would not allow you. When I was in the cabinet, I walked around with a letter of resignation in my pocket. The president knew it. And if he asked me to do something that I didn’t believe in, I would pull it out. You need to be able to do that. You need to be able to communicate that you will behave with integrity. Integrity is core to honest politics.
I was in a political job. I’m still in a political job. But if you understand that your ultimate goal is serving others, and you act with integrity, you can make the politics a very dignified part of your job as a leader.
Bowman. Is there anything that you want to say to the audience about how you as a leader stay ahead of the curve?
Frenk. I love the title of the series, because the key to this pandemic has always been staying ahead of the curve. And in general, staying ahead of the curve is an enormous value proposition.
The first thing I would say is to cultivate diversity of thought. We need to cultivate diversity in every dimension. That includes purposefully surrounding yourself with people who think differently than you, identifying your own weaknesses, and recruiting a team that complements and compensates for some of your own weaknesses.
If you have a diversity of perspectives, you are much more likely to get ahead of the curve.
We must have self-awareness and the humility to say, “I don't know everything. I have my own blind spots. I need to build a team that’s diverse in every dimension—racial, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and diversity of thought.” As I said, diversity is not just the right thing to do ethically, which it is. It is also the smart thing to do.
And if you have a diversity of perspectives, you are much more likely to get ahead of the curve. Because whatever bias any member of the team has, including yourself—and we all have biases—they will be neutralized by other people. Encourage disagreement. We have regular meetings, almost every day, to see how we’re doing with managing the pandemic on campus. And every so often, a colleague begins a statement by saying, “with all due respect.” And I remind them, “please understand, I don’t interpret disagreement as disrespect. Please disagree. It’s good for us to disagree!”
Those are elements of staying ahead of the curve. It is difficult to see what is on the other side of the curve. The way to lift yourself so you can see over the curve is to stand on the shoulders of a large group of people who think differently than you, and figuratively they allow you to see beyond the curve, so you can stay ahead of the curve.
Those are elements I would bring to leadership. And with them: integrity, humility (rethinking what it means to be “strong”), team building, and being driven by evidence not prejudice—listening to the science and, yes, mixing science-driven evidence with experience-based intuition.
When you have experience, you do have to learn to trust your intuition. At certain times in the pandemic, the evidence was not that clear, so I drew from my reservoir of experience to make sense of things.
Some of the things I said earlier about how I was weighing keeping students off campus versus allowing them back to campus, some of those thoughts were more intuitive. But it was based on experience. Getting that balance of always using the available evidence but also relying on your experience and that of your team—that’s where the diversity of perspectives is so valuable. If you do that, I think you have a good chance of staying ahead of the curve.
- Interested in public health? Learn more here.
- Read more articles about leadership in public health.
- Support research and engaged learning at the School of Public Health.