A student’s perspective: Leading from the West

by Taylor Wolfson 

B.S. Candidate, Policy, Planning, and Development
USC Sol Price School of Public Policy

Taylor Wolfson asks Richard Riordan a question. Photo by Tom Queally.On February 19th I had the opportunity to go to an event held by the USC Price School of Public Policy Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise featuring Richard Riordan, who has been a key political player in California for the last twenty-five years as Mayor of Los Angeles and California Secretary of Education. Because I am extremely interested in education reform and policy as a catalyst of change, I was excited to learn about Mr. Riordan’s experiences as mayor and secretary and the lessons he has learned over the course of his career in government. Fortunately, this event was the perfect learning opportunity because Dr. Raphael Bostic, director of the Bedrosian Center who spoke with Mr. Riordan, asked very interesting and relevant questions and consequently received very interesting and relevant answers. I enjoyed listening to Mr. Riordan talk about the five qualities of leadership, the need to put strong people in leadership roles liked he strived to do as mayor, the difference in effectiveness of government at the state and local levels, and his ways in which he carried out his mantra—“it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.” I was especially intrigued by Mr. Riordan’s comments on the importance of putting strong people in leadership roles, and during the question and answer segment I was able to ask Mr. Riordan about how he chose his leaders and how he knew which people had the potential to be those strong leaders he was looking for. What stuck out to me in his response was: “hire slowly, fire quickly.” It was a completely new perspective that I had never heard of, but it does make sense. There’s no reason to hold on to people who simply aren’t getting the job done. So that, in a nutshell, is why I enjoyed this event. Dr. Bostic’s conversation with Mr. Riordan was spontaneous and genuine, and as a result I not only received a perspective that I would never have received from a traditional interview, but was able to ask questions and learn about what I was interested in, making this event both educational and full of opportunity.