Plenary session at the Symposium

Symposium Explores Leadership Later in Life

On October 26, 2022, the Leadership & Society Symposium brought together 250 accomplished executives, creative minds, and brilliant scholars under one roof. These leaders gathered in pursuit of a singular goal: develop the vision for a transformative next chapter in their lives.

The Leadership & Society Initiative is a year-long, immersive experience for senior executives who seek to transition from their long-established careers towards purposeful next chapters of leadership in society. Drawing on the University’s vast resources, the initiative has two goals: first, to help its fellows live more meaningful, connected, and fulfilling lives; and second, to help society by equipping these fellows with the knowledge, tools, and networks to drive significant, positive societal impact. At LSI, the end of one chapter is also the beginning of a new one.

“The notion that we would have individuals who are on a life journey, who have reached a certain level of accomplishment, come back to the University, it seems to me it’ll be a huge, huge win for everybody.” said Paul Alivisatos, president of the University of Chicago. “That, to me, feels like it’s a kind of epitome of an engaged university. Because now we’re going to be partners.”


The three days of the Symposium tracked to LSI’s three learning pillars: Know oneself. Understand the world. Envision the future. On the first day, focused on exploring the depth and breadth of each individual’s life so far, Anne Mulcahy, the former chair and C.E.O. of Xerox, conversed with Paul Rand, the Vice President of Communications at the University, in a fireside conversation titled “Making Your Next Chapter Matter.”

“I’m excited about the LSI because I think it provides a framework for that transitional time for business executives,” said Ms. Mulcahy, whose nonprofit work spans from chairing the board at Save The Children Federation, Inc., to serving as a trustee of the Nature Conservancy in Connecticut.

“The skills that you acquire over those years in business really do provide such value to other sectors,” Mulcahy explained. “To be able to understand where you best fit and how you can make a contribution, it’s a real gift. That’s exactly what LSI is intended to do, to explore those opportunities, to create a network of peers, and to help you understand where your best self can be for that next chapter of your life.”


The second day, “Understand the World,” aptly featured some of the world’s brightest intellectuals, including distinguished University professors and noted economists Austan Goolsbee and Michael Greenstone, political consultant and founder of the University’s Institute of Politics David Axelrod, and Obama Foundation C.E.O. Valerie Jarrett.

Mr. Axelrod, speaking with Graham School Dean Seth Green at a fireside conversation over lunch, praised the LSI’s focus on supporting leaders in efforts to solve real-world issues. “What you have here is the combination of great scholarship, world-class scholarship, and, increasingly, a focus on real-world problems,” he said. “So, if you’re someone who’s thinking about what your next step is, this is a wonderful place to come. You’ll be intellectually stimulated in ways you can’t imagine. Ideas are being spawned here about how to deal with some of the most pressing problems of our time.”


For many attendees, the keyword of the third day was “purpose.” One of the primary aims of LSI is to lead individuals on a path of personal growth and development focused around their vision for the world. Attendee James Coleman said, “The key strength of LSI is that it’s an opportunity to step back and re-evaluate purpose through a number of different vantage points.”

Other attendees and speakers agreed with Coleman that LSI makes it possible to re-shape one’s purpose and next steps. “It’s very easy to be pigeonholed based on what you’ve done for your career,” said David Snyder, the president and C.E.O. of the Economic Club of Chicago, who spoke at a breakout session entitled “Pivoting Toward Purpose.” “You will find people that will be pigeon-holers, and then you will find people that see the broader contribution your skill set could make.”

Appropriately, the closing plenary of the Symposium was titled “Designing Your (Mini) Purpose Plan,” alluding to the greater “purpose plan” that LSI fellows will design over the course of a year. The four panelists, welcomed with remarks from President Alivisatos, spoke eloquently of their search for meaning over the course of their careers.

“Purpose is our anchor,” said panelist Nicole Johnson-Scales, the C.E.O. of NJS Consulting. “It is what we were uniquely created to do.”

Despite the fact that this plenary session marked the end of the Symposium, as Ms. Johnson-Scales and her fellow panelists spoke, their tone was future-looking. After a successful three days of fireside conversations, class sessions, and lively lunches and dinners, attendees and speakers alike were prepared to continue with the ambitious LSI project. “Passion is our ‘what,’ purpose is our ‘why,’” Ms. Johnson-Scales concluded. “Passion is about you. Purpose is for others.”

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