Interview with

Dr. Leigh Hafrey

"You get engaged in a conversation with people who may come to diametrically opposed conclusions about the readings."

- Dr. Leigh Hafrey, Senior Lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management


You have been an Aspen Moderator for many years now- can you explain how you became engaged with the Aspen Germany Seminar and what makes it so special?


I moderated the US Aspen Socrates Seminars for about 10 to 12 years alongside other seminars, starting in 2000. In 2010, Aspen Germany checked in with us and sent us a message saying, “you know, this is something we would like to do. Can you give us a version of the Executive Seminar that is tilted towards Germany and the German culture?”. Together with Charles King Mallory, the former Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Germany we crafted an Executive Leadership Seminar syllabus that was based on the general intent of the American seminar but added the dimension that spoke specifically to German audiences.


Would you say that the Aspen Leadership Seminar is more beneficial for certain groups than others?


The seminar is intended for everybody and not just business leaders. The Aspen Seminar in Germany targets a much broader audience and that is deliberate. From the get-go, we have seen this seminar as one that would bring people from private, public, and civic sector, as well as artists, journalists, and business leaders together. The diversity among participants is important, because people are going to be talking across different experiences and expectations.



What can you learn in the seminar that you can later apply to your professional and personal life?


I think that the seminar gives you the opportunity to reflect on your focus area and this is built into the title “Philosophy and Practice”.

There is the aspect of the seminar to vocalize what you think about the subject matter. As for our seminar, it would be the philosophical texts we use. We speak about texts from Plato, Aristotle, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlein to Bertolt Brecht and Milton Friedman. The main idea is that by articulating how we respond to the content of those readings we discover how we are prioritizing our values. You might discover that you think honesty is more important than loyalty, or the reverse. I think that this is crucial, especially when you hear from 15 other participants, who have the kind of diverse backgrounds I have previously talked about. You get engaged in a conversation with people who may come to diametrically opposed conclusions about the readings. The task of speaking across those differences feels like a hugely important result of what we do in the seminar to me. 


We are currently living in a world that is facing multiple global crises at the same time – rising inequality, climate change, and the current global health crisis that is not yet managed. What are the most imminent challenges to the concept of leadership in today´s world?


There can be no doubt that we are facing several global challenges at this point. When I say “we” I mean not just people in leadership positions, but all of us. Whether it is the COVID-19 pandemic or climate change, everyone is affected, and I think within limits at least, that speaks to the nature of the leadership that we need at this point. Everyone needs to step up. Everyone needs to take some responsibility.


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