Magazine article The New Yorker

Leaders-to-Be

Magazine article The New Yorker

Leaders-to-Be

Article excerpt

Gilbert Probst, the managing director and dean of academic affairs at the World Economic Forum, took a seat at Columbia's Miller Theatre the other day and began observing what appeared to be a warmup exercise for an international improv troupe. "This is completely new," he whispered. "Art and leadership." On the stage, Kristin Linklater, a professor in Columbia's theatre program, and a former voice coach to Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray, was asking a couple of dozen young men and women to impersonate their diaphragms and breathe deeply. "It seems simple and almost stupid," Probst continued. "I mean, these guys, they talk to people like Medvedev and have to run after C.E.O.s."

The deep breathers were what are known, at the W.E.F., as Global Leadership Fellows, ranging in age from twenty-six to thirty-six. They are training, literally, to be world leaders, and so spend five weeks each year, for three years, away from their day jobs--at places like McKinsey and the World Bank and the Open Society Institute--participating in seminars orchestrated by Probst. A year and a half ago, in Davos, Switzerland, Probst met Carol Becker, the dean of Columbia's School of the Arts, and an unlikely addition to the curriculum was conceived: a weeklong immersion in the art of stage presence.

Probst held a packet with capsule biographies of each of the fellows onstage, who were dressed as though at summer camp, in T-shirts and shorts. They were now arranged in a circle. Most of them, according to their bios, spoke several languages fluently, but Linklater was busy demonstrating that what they excelled at, really, was mumbling and swallowing words. "This Korean, he's fantastic," Probst said of one future leader, a short, stocky man with glasses who stood in the middle of the circle. Linklater instructed him to maintain eye contact while relaxing his belly. Of another, Probst said, "He comes from a Chinese diplomatic school, where all the high politicians come from. He was, like, so introverted. He's completely changed."

"Long before you were born, there was a man called Marshall McLuhan, who worked out of M.I.T.," Linklater said to the fellows, and set about explaining the theory of the medium and the message. "And we've realized that the crucial medium is the human being who is delivering the message," she went on. …

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