Former Polish President Kwasniewski Gives McDonough Students Lessons in Leadership
His Excellency Aleksander Kwasniewski, former president of Poland and a distinguished scholar at Georgetown University, spoke to a room full of MBA students about national leadership at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business Leaders Breakfast Series March 24. Kwasniewski led Poland from 1995 to 2005, presiding over Poland's post-communist development and accession into the European Union.
Kwasniewski discussed the challenges of leading Poland in a time of great change. "I started in the communist government when I was 31," he said. "We were faced with the challenge of finding solutions in a communist, centralized economy, and limited democracy-a situation we knew was exhausted."
As president, Kwasniewski was charged with leading a country that was still divided by long-standing political loyalties. He used his abilities as a consensus-builder and reformer to resolve political stalemates and unite his countrymen around the common goal of reform.
"I have always pursued peaceful reform over revolution," he explained. "Leadership is about organizing common efforts." He also highlighted the importance of courage, ethics, and humility by adding, "Being an effective leader is not just about managing people, but about making difficult decisions and managing risk. Having good values and ethics is important to guide you in your decision-making, as is maintaining a sense of humility, and recognizing that you don't have all the answers."
Kwasniewski also talked about U.S. President Barack Obama's first days in office and the challenges he faces in the years ahead. "The world is tired of U.S. leadership, but it needs American leadership," he said. "President Obama must manage the crisis without going too far in terms of changing the idea of the market economy. He also needs to propose new strategies for NATO and participate in the G20, both as a member of a collective of nations and as the leader of the free world." Kwasniewski also answered questions about the future of the European Union and the business environment in Poland.
President Kwasniewski closed the breakfast by urging the students to work hard, stay true to their values, and seek opportunities. "Leadership is a matter of being the right person at the right time and in the right place," he said. "It is 90 percent hard work and 10 percent luck."\
About Aleksander Kwasniewski
Aleksander Kwasniewski was a founding member of the New Social Democratic Party of Poland and served as its chairman before winning the 1995 presidential election. He was re-elected in 2000 and left office late last year. In office, Kwasniewski supported economic liberalization and close relations with the West. His priorities included constitutional reform, securing Polish membership in NATO and the European Union, and advocating eastern expansion of European institutions.