By Eric Acre, Staff Writer ||

Last Friday, students met with F&M alumni for a discussion on the ins and outs of leadership and how to students can become effective leaders themselves.

The panel, entitled “What Makes an Effective Leader,” was organized by The Office of Student and Post-Graduate Development (OSPGD), and facilitated by volunteers from the Gray Scholars program. The session lasted for an hour and ran as an informal question-and-answer period during which students asked questions pertaining to leadership and the alumni responded candidly and honestly. The program’s structure provided information and advice that is often not discussed at similar leadership events.

Some of the questions asked included “What characteristics are the most important for effective leadership?,” “How do you deal with failure as a leader?,” and “How important have mentors and sponsors been in your life,” among many others.

In response to being asked what characteristics are most important for effective leadership, Jeffrey Stoltzfooz, ’00, vice president of regulatory policy at GE Capital, gave the first, and rather unexpected, answer.

“You have to be comfortable being alone [to be a leader],” Stoltzfooz said.

This emphasized that being a leader can cause isolation, and knowing how to handle that isolation can play a significant role in being an effective leader.

Raymond Bain, ’75, vice president of Biostatistics & Research Dec. Sci., Merck & Co., Inc. followed up by saying that it is important to make sure employees did not feel isolated or feel as though their boss is

“You have to fight constantly to reduce the gap between the leader and the person you’re leading,” Bain said.

Margery Brittain, ’79, vice president of Global Compensation and Benefits at MetLife, said that passion is essential to leadership. The rest of the panel agreed, and emphasized that passion is necessary to be an effective leader.

Another question discussed how leaders can effectively deal with failure.

“You learn more from your failures than you do from your successes,” said Wendell Funk, ‘72, a cosmetic plastic surgeon. “Almost everybody fails in their lifetime, and if you don’t, then you’re not stretching yourself far enough.”

Funk also emphasized that resilience and perseverance are critical for dealing with failure.

The general agreement between the alumni seemed to be that failure happens to everyone, and so it is important to acknowledge failure but also realize how it can be handled and used as a learning

The alumni were also asked about the role of mentors and sponsors in their own lives.

“There are lots of mentors out there, but mentors generally don’t go looking around for people to mentor,” said Stoltzfoos.“You have to go to them. You have to get on their calendar.”

The panel agreed with this and emphasized that mentors and sponsors in general are a key part of learning about oneself, being able to acknowledge one’s strengths and weaknesses, and making inroads into the job market.


First-year Eric Acre is a staff writer. His email is