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The Presidential Leadership Scholars Program is Helping to Shape Leaders and Change Lives

July 13, 2017 7 minute Read
Today marks the close of the third class of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program. Take a look at what the program set out to accomplish, what it has achieved, and the lives that have been impacted along the way.

Presidential Leadership Scholars – Overview

The PLS program is a unique leadership development initiative that draws upon the resources of the presidential centers of Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton and George W. Bush. Since its inception in 2015, 181 Scholars have gained greater inspiration and a stronger sense of purpose as leaders through their participation in the program.

Unveiling the program, President Clinton said he hoped it would inspire the scholars to “have vigorous debate, serious disagreements, knock-down, drag-out fights, and somehow come to ultimately a resolution that enables the country to keep moving forward.”

“We want people from all walks of life and different political persuasions,” President Bush said. “We want people who have shown the capacity to succeed. People who work hard, and who work with others in a good way.”

The executive-style education series is designed for leaders from diverse backgrounds who share a commitment to addressing society’s greatest challenges. Cohorts have included Scholars of many different religions, races, political affiliations, and professional backgrounds – from military veterans to nonprofit directors to doctors. And by including a roster of presidential centers — two Republican and two Democratic — and engaging former presidents from both parties, the program creates a rare opportunity to instill in Scholars a brand of principled leadership that transcends partisanship.

“As I looked around the classroom, there are a rainbow of different beliefs. Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, and Independent. Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh,” said 2017 Presidential Leadership Scholar SreyRam Kuy. “We may come from different fields and different backgrounds, but we came together with a common purpose. To serve our country through public service.”

The program seeks participants who have a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences and who will most benefit from a dynamic learning experience that stresses the importance of cooperation and collaboration. As Keith Hennessey related to this year’s PLS cohort, “Rather than always reaching consensus, we need to learn to disagree in a clean and respectful way.”

Scholars are selected through a rigorous process based on their leadership growth potential and the strength of their personal leadership projects. These projects are aimed at improving the civic or social good by addressing a problem or need in a community, profession or organization. Past Scholars have used their projects to help accomplish goals like improving our nation’s schools, supporting transitioning members of the military, bringing poverty relief to communities around the globe, and implementing practical business solutions to enhance public and private partnerships.

PLS in Numbers

  • Nearly 70% of Scholars say they’ve achieved or have made substantial progress on the Personal Leadership Project goals they set prior to the program.
  • Over 95% of Scholars report significant growth in their inspiration and sense of purpose as leaders, most of which they attribute to PLS.
  • 72% of Scholars say PLS was very or extremely influential in their achievements since graduation.
  • 42% of Scholars have taken on a new role change since graduation.

PLS Session Speakers

Through the PLS program curriculum, participants have connected with some of the best minds in the study of leadership and benefited from the assets of the participating presidential centers and insights of the former presidents and people who served with them.

In addition to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, throughout the three years of the program Scholars also have had the opportunity to hear from speakers such as former First Lady Laura W. Bush; the Right Honourable Tony Blair; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Senator Rob Portman; Governor Terry McAuliffe; former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; former Secretaries of Commerce Don Evans and Carlos Gutierrez; former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman; former Secretaries of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and Sylvia Mathews Burwell; former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings; former Chiefs of Staff Joshua Bolten, Erskine Bowles, Andrew Card, Mack McLarty, John Podesta, and John Sununu; former Counselor to the President Larry Temple; daughter of President Lyndon Johnson, Laci Baines Johnson, and more.

Here are some noteworthy quotes from the speakers about the PLS program:

  • “I haven’t seen in one room so much talent, intelligence, and promise since 1961 when I welcomed the first class of Peace Corps volunteers.” – Bill Moyers
  • "Presidential Leadership Scholars program - first of its kind… You are part of such an exciting opportunity...You'll take away the experience of what it's like to walk in the shoes of a presidential leader." – Anita McBride
  • "You are our hope for the future. Because you are willing to sit down with people with opposing views and find out what you have in common. That's how leadership actually manifests itself in the process.” – Valerie Jarrett

PLS Program in Their Own Words                                    

  • The program seeks participants who have a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences and who will most benefit from a dynamic learning experience that stresses the importance of cooperation and collaboration.

“While I pride myself on being open-minded, I was exposed to perspectives in this program that challenged my worldview and made me reconsider the meaning of real impact. From PLS, I learned about the daily struggles of my Latino, black and Indian classmates from the deep racial and ethnic health and social welfare disparities in the communities they grew up in. I revisited my views on structural inequities and white privilege. My LBGT classmates shared how they grew up being different and ostracized because they never belonged to any in-group...PLS challenged us to become better leaders in our organizations, but it also challenged us to tackle the tough issues facing our cities, our states and our country.” – BJ Goergen, 2016 Presidential Leadership Scholar in a piece for the Huffington Post.

  • The program engages Scholars in difficult conversations to understand different perspectives and seek common ground.

“We were challenged to disagree with each other. To rank our values. We were asked to defend our positions. We discussed criminal justice reform and mass incarceration, welfare reform and economic policy, abortion and human rights. Issues that divide our country. Throughout the week, we held conversations that we otherwise try to avoid. We were warned not to waste our time, but to act as if we had known each other for 10 years. And ultimately it was our differences that joined us and attracted us to each other while building a stronger bond as each day passed.” – Gerardo Interiano, 2017 Presidential Leadership Scholar in a piece for the Austin Business Journal.