On Leadership



I went for my regular early morning walk and listened (again!) to the soundtrack of Hamilton. It helped me to reflect, especially as we come away from another 4th of July weekend, about the toil, challenge, and fortitude it took to literally build a nation.  Quickly, though, I moved into thinking about how that nation has evolved and where we are today. I’ve heard many people express their opinion that the forefathers “could not have predicted” where we would be in 2022, but I disagree.  They may not have known the exact issues we’d be struggling with, but I do think they brilliantly designed a system to react to literally thousands of different tests and challenges this country would face hundreds of years into the future.

Certainly, few would argue that our nation needs great leadership, and I would add that there needs to be diversity of leadership and voices “in the room where it happens”.  At APIA Scholars, we strongly believe that we must increase the representation of the Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community inside of those rooms where key decisions about this nation’s future are discussed.  While we have seen a significant increase of AANHPIs in positions of leadership in the last few years, we have a long way to go. Building strong leadership starts with our youth and for us, with our scholars.

APIA Scholars is committed to supporting our scholars to grow in their own leadership capacity as they move through their college journeys and beyond as they become citizens in a global world and local communities with a voice and a point of view.  We want to encourage, support, and develop the leadership potential we see in every single student we serve.

I have been thinking about leadership a lot lately.  What does it mean to be a leader? What makes someone a respected leader? And what are the most important leadership qualities? to explore and support our scholars to develop.

Personally, I have made observations about components of great leadership that I very much value and admire.  These characteristics certainly inform my own approach to leadership and the way APIA Scholars commits to engaging with our scholars around leadership.

Leaders have hope.  I have noticed that in the face of dreary realities, great leaders have hope. They believe they have the agency to influence change and they can see the short and long journey ahead.  They stay laser-focused on the potential for positive change regardless of the obstacles and challenges in their way.

Leaders are reflective.  In my opinion, our best leaders are those who are open about their failures and their humanity.  They invite us to learn along with them and they see setbacks as true opportunities to learn and grow.  This process of growth usually also breeds another characteristic – humility.  Reflective leaders are usually free of ego and need for recognition.  They know who they are (faults and all) and they lean into the shared experience of being fully human.

Leaders value different points of view.  Leaders like to be around people with differing opinions and points of view.  This is seen as a tremendous value add and they are not threatened by this, but rather see it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and even potentially change their mind!

Leaders are solutions oriented.  Leaders do not have time to be petty, dwell in past indiscretions, or engage in the blame game.  Leaders are focused on finding the best solution for the situation at hand, and they wish to do so efficiently and expediently.

Leaders take responsibility.  Leaders are never perfect. In fact, the individuals we might agree were/are “great leaders” had/have limitations.  What sets great leaders apart are the ones who are transparent and open and who hold themselves accountable in equal measure to those around them.

Finally, I find this one behavior in leaders one of the most telling qualities of an amazing, respected, and effective leader.

Leaders uplift those around them. The best leaders realize the value of the individuals and team members around them. They recognize their own role as being partof the team and that whatever their goals, aspirations, and visions are as the leader, they are dependent on having strong, capable, and very smart people with experience and expertise in their roles around them to be able to SOAR in their roles.  They give their teams autonomy, trust, and agency and they support them in whatever ways they can.

In celebration of the month our country was born, I underscore that the future depends on great leaders, from diverse communities, with differing perspectives to help solve the many challenges this country and the people in it (and the world) will face in the coming years and decades.  APIA Scholars is proud to support the leadership development of our scholars. Their leadership abilities will guide their families, future workplaces, and communities toward an ever-evolving nation that is more inclusive and understanding.

Noël S. Harmon, PhD

President & Executive Director