Nan Keohane, former president of Wellesley and Duke, is one of the nicest people you might hope to meet, so to compare her with Machiavelli seems odd. But she and that Renaissance power broker share an accomplishment: They are among the few practicing leaders who wrote books about leadership. Her latest book, Thinking About Leadership, was recently published by Princeton University Press. As an academic political theorist with practical experience in leadership, she has some startling insights, such as on gender-based leadership qualities.
Keohane (pronounced “Ko-han”) will speak at the Princeton Regional Chamber breakfast on Wednesday, June 15, at 7:30 a.m. at the Nassau Club on “How Can We Produce Leaders?” And as the U.S. 1 reporter who interviewed her says, “When Nan Keohane speaks about leadership, people tend to listen.” Reserve ahead, or the club can usually accommodate last-minute walk-ins. (Disclosure: As a Duke alumna and parent I am an unabashed fan of Nan Keohane.)
Among her paradigm-changes at Duke were to close East Campus to upperclassmen so that the entire freshman class could be housed there. (East Campus, built in 1925, formerly housed the Women’s College. With its Georgian architecture (below) it offers quiet, calming ambiance, compared to the main West Campus, built in collegiate Gothic style, like Princeton.)
She wanted the freshman to be able to form cohort living groups and move with their groups to the “favored” West Campus. So that there would be enough space for them, she uprooted the fraternities from their hallowed spots on West. I wasn’t following the student newspaper, the Duke Chronicle, at that time, but I can just imagine the ruckus it caused. Keohane achieved her purpose — to significantly improve the social ambiance for non-Greeks.
Another notable accomplishment: the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Initiative, in which Duke reached out successfully to the neighborhood associations around the campus and considerably improved both town-gown relations and the conditions of schools, clinics and community centers in the surrounding area. In April, at a reunion, I took a tour that showed these fabulous improvements. Durham of my day was a town you avoided, and but today it has been named as one of the 10 best places to live.
After 11 years at Duke, leaving it in much better shape than she found it, Keohane and her political scientist husband were recruited in 2005 to Princeton University, where she is the Laurance S. Rockefeller Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Affairs. A graduate of Wellesley with a PhD from Yale, she has served on such corporate boards as IBM, State Street Boston, and Harvard.
Though Keohane’s book covers a broad spectrum of past and present leaders, she — like Machiavelli — focuses most of her attention on just a few: Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Queen Elizabeth I, and Franklin Roosevelt. How can we in Princeton grow leaders like these? I’ll be eager to hear.