William F. Buckley, founder of the conservative news magazine National Review, said he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 people listed in the Boston phonebook than by the faculty of Harvard University, having more faith in the common man than the intellectual elite. Recently, I’ve heard liberals empathize with that sentiment, recognizing the failure of some of society’s most intellectually prestigious institutions. Typically divided, members of the electorate are united in their disillusionment with the current system of determining society’s leadership.

But when I hear people complain about the unwarranted control of the intellectual elite, I wonder what qualities they would look for in choosing the leaders of finance, government and business. History has shown us that wealth, social status and political connectedness shouldn’t be among them. Beyond that, I’m not sure how useful history is in telling us where to look for leaders because the terrain of the 21st century is vastly different than anything before it.

As the next generation of society’s leaders, our well-roundedness will have to surpass that of the generations before us. Many of the qualities that will be necessary for success in this next phase of American life haven’t been necessary before. It seems as though the game is changing so we should learn the rules before we’re thrown into it.

I suppose intelligence — at least the kind we traditionally measure through the system of higher education — doesn’t necessarily equip someone with the potential to lead. Many of the Wall Street brokers, whose financial irresponsibility and lack of foresight facilitated the nation’s worst economic downturn since the depression, hold fancy diplomas from top universities.

So should we value a high emotional intelligence over book smarts? After the 2008 election, New York Time columnist Maureen Dowd contrasted President Barack Obama’s role as “the Convener” to President George W. Bush’s role as “the Decider.” She celebrated Obama’s self-deprecating allowance of others’ expertise to guide his decision-making. Even if our leaders don’t have all the answers, we want them to be socially competent enough to work together and figure them out. Hopefully, public policy students learned something from Congress’s nearly debilitating reluctance to compromise on the health care bill.

The emotional intelligence of our leaders is also important insofar as it strengthens their resolve to work for the betterment of all people. Leaders of finance must strike a balance between the moral integrity that prevents their succumbing to greed and the ambition for profit that promotes economic growth. Our business school graduates should look forward to being celebrated for enhancing widespread prosperity, not being sneered at for playing the market game to their advantage.

Daniel Pink, an alumnus of my high school and author of The New York Times bestseller “A Whole New Mind,” suggests that we’re transitioning away from the “Information age” and into the “Conceptual age,” wherein a person’s ability to create will be valued over a person’s ability to calculate. According to this picture of the future in which the most innovative people will be the most successful, maybe we should have more creative expression requirements than natural science requirements at the University.

Those who stick with the natural sciences will be responsible for restructuring society’s treatment of the environment. As the green movement becomes less politicized, the most successful industries will be those that are the least environmentally disruptive. Alternative energy research is valued for its potential to drastically enhance American self-sufficiency, along with its environmental benefits. Innovation in the sciences is crucial to the success of almost every facet of our society.

If technology continues developing at the same pace as it did over the last decade, computer science will likely become more commonplace than natural science. I expect the professions that are now considered the most lucrative — medicine and law — to become less attractive in comparison to computer engineering. They’ll be making the most money while working for forward-thinking companies that function more like workplace playgrounds than offices.

The technological leap forward has carried us into a globalized world. Business executives will be working regularly face-to-face with their international counterparts, as Skype becomes the new conference call. Not only will knowledge of foreign languages become a crucial element of success but cultural awareness will as well. We’ll have to take strides away from the narcissism that’s soiled America’s image internationally.

Criticisms of the intellectual elite got me thinking about what qualities should be valued in the leaders of society. Although I maintain that intelligence is among those qualities, the others are equally as important. If creativity, social consciousness and personal integrity are the determining factors of Harvard’s future faculty members, maybe Bill Buckley would prefer them to the phonebook.

Libby Ashton can be reached a easton@umich.edu.

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