I sat down recently with Laura Arnold, Adjunct Professor of Management at the Jones Graduate School of Business and President of the Laura and John Arnold Family Foundation, to talk on the topic of leadership at the Jones School of Business as well as solicit ideas for how individuals can contribute to education, regardless of their professional tracks.
Iâd long wanted to meet Laura Arnold. Her Legal Issues in Mergers and Acquisitions course was highly reviewed by my fellow colleagues while at the Jones School, and her combination of broad leadership experience and passionate involvement in education initiatives positioned her perfectly for a conversation centering on both topics. Ms. Arnold simultaneously conveys a delightful, welcoming presence and razor-sharp intellect and drive, and I found our visit absolutely terrific.
Ms. Arnold has a tremendously impressive background, as provided by the LJAF foundation:
“Laura E. Arnold is Co-Chair of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. LJAFâs core objective is to produce substantial, widespread and lasting reforms that will maximize opportunities and minimize injustice in our society. LJAFâs strategy is to systematically examine areas of society in which barriers to human progress and achievement exist, and to then apply a rigorous, comprehensive and entrepreneurial approach to these areas, considering all possible strategies, tactics and resource levels and teams (including existing players) to effect solutions. LJAFâs current areas of focus include criminal justice, government accountability initiatives, and education.
Until late 2005, Ms. Arnold was Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Cobalt International Energy, L.P. in Houston, Texas. Prior to that, she was a mergers and acquisitions attorney at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz in New York, New York.
Ms. Arnold is a member of the New York bar. She has a J.D. from the Yale Law School, an M.Phil in European Studies from the University of Cambridge and a B.A., Magna Cum Laude, in Government from Harvard College. After law school, Ms. Arnold clerked for the Hon. Judith W. Rogers in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Ms. Arnold is an Adjunct Professor of Management at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management at Rice University, where she is also a Trustee. She is also a member of the national board of directors of Teach For America and the Innocence Project and a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.”
The Jones School and REEP are committed to developing leaders, so I asked Ms. Arnold to share her thoughts on such a fascinating topic:
AN: As a Jones School faculty member, Iâd like to hear your reflections on leadershipâhow do you develop leaders? What have you observed at the Jones School?
LA: âAt some level, youâre either a leader or youâre not. You can improve at the margin. You can polish certain things and you can minimize flaws in somebody whoâs not a born leader, but at the end of the day, the people who achieve transformative change as leaders are born with those qualities, and those qualities are in a way intangible. Theyâre about people and intelligence, relating to people and inspiring people, inspiring confidence and understanding how to maximize peoplesâ potential and minimize peoplesâ weaknesses. A true leaderâŠ not only inspires people but alsoâwithin an organization, within a school district, a school, or a classroomâ[is] very, very attuned to [a] teamâs strengths and weaknesses, and understand[s] how to get the very best out of people. And at the most basic level thatâs not something you can teach. As a Rice trustee and as a Rice faculty member, I very much believe we do a very good job of selecting people who have those leadership skills and who satisfy those criteria.â
With experience on the Board of Directors for Teach for America and in working alongside Houston ISD, Ms. Arnold was able to share specific insights on leadership as related to the REEP program, particularly regarding entrepreneurship:
LA: âAt its highest functioning level, a school is a business. A school is an entrepreneurial environment where [a leader] needs to figure out how toâŠ inspire peopleâŠand get a body of people moving forward better than anyone elseâŠ and often we see in some non-performing or low-performing schools, there is not much appetite for innovation and things stagnate; so I think people who would be attracted to the REEP program are people who view schools and districts in the educational system as entrepreneurial endeavors. In terms of leadership in education, this is unique to Rice. [REEP] has selected individuals who very much fit into that profile.â
Outside of the classroom, opportunities abound for practicing leadership in a community setting. Being personally passionate about community involvement, I asked Ms. Arnold to share her thoughts on how individuals as community members might contribute to education specifically.
AN: How can people contribute to education, whether currently working in the field or not? What is the potential for individualsâ broad involvement?
LA: âAs an individualâŠ one of the ways to do that is to encourage a culture of accountability. People simply donât get involved in local politics in generalâfor example, knowing who your local school board member is, and itâs a tremendously important job, setting the policy in districtsâso [itâs] small things like advocacy and getting involved in advocacy and understanding what peopleâs viewpoints are, and understanding how those viewpoints are getting manifested at the school level.â
Leadership and community involvement often go hand-in-hand. As Rice MBA students are challenged to further develop their potential, they are also encouraged to find ways to give back. Education advocacy is one admirable path, but a myriad of other options wait for increased involvement as well. What are some ways in which we can develop a habit of lending service to our communities? As newly emerging leaders, how do we motivate ourselves and our colleagues to become actively involved in these conversations?