The University Bookman interviews McConnell Center director

(March 1, 2011) LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Gary L. Gregg, director of the McConnell Center, discusses the connection between what people read and how they lead. He also sheds insight into his young adult fiction writing process.
The University Bookman interviews McConnell Center director

Gary L. Gregg, II

The University Bookman's Gerald J. Russello interviewed Gary L. Gregg, II, who holds the Mitch McConnell Chair in Leadership at the University of Louisville. Gregg is also director of the McConnell Center. He is the author or editor of nine books, including a new series of young adult novels called The Remnant Chronicles.

A portion of their conversation is excerpted below. (Full interview)

Russello: How has your fiction writing informed your work at the McConnell Center and its mission of developing political leadership? Do you see a connection between what people read and how they lead?

Gregg: Napoleon once said that it was imagination that ruled the world. I have come to believe this to be true and in many ways it has become the guide to what I do. Entrepreneurs, statesmen, even advertising agents are great because of the quality of their imaginations. Businesses are not born on spreadsheets, but in people’s imaginations. Statesmen only become worthy of the name if their imaginations are inhabited by great political heroes of the past and if they can love a posterity yet unseen. Our great filmmakers, advertising agents, authors, computer programmers, social activists, entrepreneurs, and military leaders are men and women of imagination. At the McConnell Center I am tasked with nurturing outstanding young leaders for the future of Kentucky and the nation. I think I can do them no better than helping form their imaginations by giving them great works of literature, history, biography, religion, and philosophy to read and discuss.

It is the quality and power of our imaginations that set the parameters of our actions and what we can achieve.

Through reading we build a storehouse of images, characters, settings, lessons that can later serve, consciously or not, to help guide our actions. We are capable of no more than the pictures in our heads allow us to accomplish. You can look at a political figure’s heroes and tell a lot about how they will act in similar circumstances. To appropriate C. S. Lewis’s phrase, I want to help produce men and women with “chests,” that is, people whose sentiments are properly aligned because of the lessons and exemplars held in their imaginations. Reason cannot rule our basest instincts without the aid of the imagination and the imaginations of those who do not read good literature are withered and unable to assist in this battle for our souls.

So, yes, I think we can tell much about a political leader by the books she has read. I think they have an impact and I think we ignore this link at our peril.