Leadership from Socrates and Comparison to Real World

Leadership Examples from Socrates:

  • Vision
  • Humility
  • Education

Leadership Examples Observed in the RWL Program– Comparison to Socrates

Vision-How You Teach Others

During the RWL Program there was one leader who stood out as being a true visionary – Dr. Jay Perman.
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” – Socrates

Socrates was a man known for a variety of things: his vision, desire to educate, and how he revolutionized of our understanding of logic. Socrates believed in the importance of teaching a new generation, he had a vision for finding unique ways to educate and enhance the students experience so that they could learn to think for themselves. Dr. Perman at the University of Maryland is a similar visionary as he is trying to enhance his student’s learning experience. The amazing part was watching this humble leader implement such an immense and complex plan to move the colleges under the University of Maryland flagship forward.

Socrates’ style of teaching was one that forced his students to become critical thinkers through using logic to answer questions from different viewpoints. This method was revolutionary is still used in many different classrooms. This “Socratic method” is about expanding student’s horizons and teaching students to learn. Dr. Perman is attempting to revolutionize the way that his graduate students at the University of Maryland are taught. His vision for students is to learn via interdisciplinary experiences. Dr. Perman’s goal also extends to the betterment the patients within the healthcare system, as he is attempting to revolutionize a new form of health care education throughout the state of Maryland. While Socrates employed logic to challenge his students, Dr. Perman is planning on using technology to enhance University of Maryland Student’s experience, by allowing students from many colleges to collaborate with others to treat patients.

Dr. Perman’s thought process for changing the educational system seems extremely complex to the outside person looking in, yet it is unerringly simple – get our health care providers to collaborate. Dr. Perman realizes that it is not possible for one person to have all of the knowledge necessary to provide the best health care possible for every patient; it takes a team to work together. However, as simple as the plan seems, the implementation of such a plan at a major University is incredibly complex.

Dr. Perman wants to provide the spark of knowledge that allows doctors, nurses, administrators and all those in the health care profession to collaborate. This is where watching the planning surrounding the University of Maryland’s goal by a leader of Dr. Perman’s caliber was amazing. Like Socrates, Dr. Perman wants to teach those in the health care profession how to learn and rely upon a broader and more sophisticated network of information and technology.


In 1994 there was a function that the President, First Lady and Vice President were attending. They had given their opinions to the crowd of 3,000 very influential bi- partisan people who were instructed to not bring up any controversial topics. After the majority of speakers had concluded and stayed extremely neutral throughout, they were followed by an unimpressively dressed old lady, confronted them directly with a very controversial topic. After the old lady had spoken she had won them over to her side – she won the loyalty of many by speaking very humbly, plainly and from the heart. Why was her message so strong, with the ability to influence so many even though the President was an advocate of the opposite? The lady was well known for her humility. The old lady in the story is Mother Teresa, who never boasted or bragged as to who she was, but simply did what she thought was right. Mother Teresa took the stage that night to address the issue of abortion, which she did not agree with. Mother Teresa asked the First Lady, Hillary Clinton, why they couldn’t have a clinic in Washington D.C. for adoption as opposed to abortion. After a bit of collaboration, Clinton worked to fulfill Mother Teresa’s request. Because Mother Teresa was marked by her actions of not being arrogant or prideful but instead full of humility, she was received with thundering ovation that night in Washington D.C.

I entered the office of one of the leaders, a doctor, and was very impressed by his wall filled with 50-75 plaques. There were all types of degrees, awards and certificates from a multitude of prestigious establishments. I asked which single award he most proud of, and his response was the “Man of the Year” plaque awarded by the Janitorial Staff at a Hospital where he was a doctor. Looking at his wall, I was slightly taken aback by his response because he had many very coveted awards adorning his wall. When I asked why this was his most valued award, I was humbled by his response.

To paraphrase:
It means I am doing my job. Most people would say it isn’t a doctor’s job to deal with janitors. My job as a doctor is to make people’s lives better. There are doctors in this hospital who act like they own the place, but without the nurses, receptionists, cafeteria workers and janitors this wouldn’t be such a great hospital. It makes me proud to say that I have been kind enough and made a difference in their lives that they would bestow their award upon me.

This leader’s ability to recognize the importance of every contribution to the success of the whole allowed the doctor to act with humility instead of the pride many would think was well-deserved, treating each person as if they were integral to the company. When employees know that a leader cares and thinks of them as equals, they want to work for him. A good leader recognizes the potential in every person instead of looking down on those under him.

Socrates was a man with plenty of reason to look down on others. He was known as being one of the best minds of his generation or arguably of all generations. Although Socrates was vastly more intelligent than his peers he did not demean them through a boastful vocabulary or degrading others. He would claim that he wasn’t any wiser than anyone else, but he challenged everyone around him to think. Two of Socrates’ better known quotes sum up his humility.

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

“I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.”

Real World Calendar

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About the Program

The Real World Leaders - Real World Students Program is a leadership program created in partnership with the University of Kentucky that enables students to work at different work sites across America and observe a wide variety of leadership skills, traits and characteristics.

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