Ethical leaders create an environment where people can find meaning. This is a sentiment that James Comey, former director of the FBI, shared with a class of first-year American University School of Public Affairs graduate students recently when he visited to talk about ethical leadership. Comey was invited by SPA Adjunct Professor Sasha Cohen O'Connell (SPA/MPA'98/PhD'12), also formerly of the FBI, to speak to her Introduction to Public Administration students.
"Professor O'Connell surprised our class," said Samantha Pedreiro (SPA/MPA'19). "We were proceeding as normal - discussing the assigned readings - and suddenly Director Comey was at the door. We were all speechless. Our professor was formerly a senior executive at the FBI, and we had been discussing Director Comey and his actions on a fairly regular basis."
During Comey's visit, he explained that it is important to know and be grounded in values, to uphold truth, to listen to different opinions, and to debate in productive and constructive ways.
"I was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce my students to Director Comey," said O'Connell. "I have always enjoyed bringing dynamic guest speakers into the classroom, but I think this opportunity was particularly meaningful. I am grateful he was so generous with his time and open to all of the questions presented."
Comey also reinforced the notion that future government leaders need to foster work environments where people feel comfortable expressing ideas, are empowered to think creatively, and are emboldened to stand up for truth and justice.
While speaking to O'Connell's class, Comey emphasized the importance of upholding your personal values and truth. He encouraged students to become people not of success but of value.
"The visit was everything I had hoped it would be," said O'Connell. "We utilize FBI examples throughout class, and there is nothing better than the students hearing directly from an (in this case former) agency head and having the chance to ask questions. Director Comey in particular is a truly exceptional communicator, and his time with the class was highly impactful."
"Guest speakers add incredible value to a class," said Pedreiro. "They are uniquely clued in to the process and can offer firsthand insights into how things get done, what drives decisions and decision makers, and how to be effective, inclusive, and socially minded civic leaders."
After his visit with the class, Comey shared a tweet featuring a picture of his visit to SPA and how it was a "great conversation." The tweet was shared and liked more than 19,000 times within a few days.
"He further reinforced my belief that we do not always have to agree with one another, but we must be willing to listen," said Pedreiro.