Leadership Voices: Pathways to Success featuring David Brooks

New America

740 15th Street NW

Suite 900

Washington, DC

February 7, 2018

5:30 P.M. ET

The Leadership Voices series, a joint venture with New America and the McCain Institute for International Leadership, features icons and trailblazers from across business, politics, sports and technology. Focused on actionable tips and advice for young professionals, these conversations highlight how the people we look up to get to where they are – and how you can get there, too.

This installment of Leadership Voices featured a conversation with renowned columnist and best-selling author David Brooks. Brooks has been an op-ed columnist for The New York Times since 2003 and is also a commentator on PBS “NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He discussed his early career, important junctures in his path and key influencers who shaped his professional trajectory.

The discussion was moderated by Rosie Gomez, a graduate of the McCain Institute’s Next Generation Leaders 2016 cohort. Gomez is the lead on the issue of human trafficking within the child welfare population at the Department of Health and Human Services.

David Brooks discussing his hiring criteria: “I look for someone who did something that makes no sense by the standards of career advancement.”

Event Recap

On February 7, 2018, the McCain Institute for International Leadership and New America co-hosted “Leadership Voices: Pathways to Success,” featuring op-ed columnist for The New York Times, David Brooks, and moderator, former McCain Institute Next Generation Leader, Rosie Gomez. The conversation ranged from defining character-driven leadership, how David broke into journalism, the impact his mentors had on his career, and advice for millennials as they enter the work force. Here are some of the highlights from their conversation:

Defining Values and Character-Driven Leadership

  • Brooks believes there are two sets of social virtues: “résumé virtues and eulogy virtues.” The first defines how good you are at your vocation; the latter are the qualities that people will remember you for. To Brooks, character is developed through “confrontation with your own sinfulness” and a sense of humility. When synthesized, these qualities produce a sense of “radical self-awareness” which helps you put yourself in the shoes of another person.
  • Character, he says, also “comes from falling in love with the right things” and making commitments to them. The four biggest commitments we make in life that determine our character are to “a spouse and family, a vocation, a philosophy or faith, and to a community.”

The “Big Break” Moment

  • Brooks acknowledges that the people who are passionate about their work had an “enunciation moment,” or significant memory that prefigures their futures’.
  • His big break happened after he wrote a satirical piece for his college newspaper about William F. Buckley, the founder of The National Review. When Buckley visited to his campus, he offered Brooks a job as an editorial associate.

A Return to Civil Discourse

  • When it comes to arguing ideas and confronting people that disagree with you, Brooks advocates a policy of “love your enemy,” and treat them as if “they are bringing you a gift,” otherwise the partisan hatred will eventually “consumes you” and cloud your judgements.

Advice for Millennials

  • When asked about the difficulties millennials are facing, Brooks sympathizes: “I don’t blame them; I blame us,” for not giving them a “moral vocabulary.” In what he calls “the most unsupervised decade of your life,” Brooks claims that “being in your 20s is phenomenally hard.” Caught between the advice to “explore your options” and the opposite desire to achieve future stability, Brooks claims that millennials “are drowning in freedom.” To combat this contradiction, Brooks believes millennials should invest in their own “identity capital” and “do the thing that will make them most interesting.”
  • “The great blessing of the millennials,” Brooks claims, “is that a number of them are ‘hyphenated,’” meaning they inhabit more contradictions than previous generations. The melding of differing perspectives on race, gender, religion, politics and worldview helps to “bridge human capital” between American communities.
  • Brooks ends by warning the millennials in the audience to be cautious with technology. He specifically notes the dangers of social media, claiming “we’re connecting more, but we’re relating less.”