John Clemens Biography

During his fifteen years as a corporate executive, John Clemens, the founder and executive director of the both the Hartwick Humanities in Management Institute and the Hartwick Leadership Institute, claimed that he was “too busy” to dig into some of the greatest leadership and management handbooks ever written: classic works by such authors as Homer, Shakespeare and Arthur Miller. But years of sailing his 26-foot sloop in the Mediterranean gave him time to immerse himself in such literature. John Clemens changed careers, dove deeper into his studies, and became a professor of business, first at the University of Maryland and then at Hartwick College in upstate New York. With a million-dollar grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Clemens founded the Institute and began transforming great books into practical lessons in leadership. In 1985 he co-authored (with Doug Mayer) the best-selling book The Classic Touch: Leadership Lessons from Homer to Hemingway (Contemporary Books, 1999) –and developed seminars for a number of Fortune 500 companies that believed, as he did, that great literature should be brought into the leadership development classroom.

Several years later John Clemens turned his attention to film. As a first step, members of the Institute team selected short clips from fifty feature films—each one chosen because it portrayed remarkable leadership behaviors. Then they created a special version of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), a psychological instrument which employs pictures of people in realistic settings and asks subjects to interpret the scene. Finally, they went into the field, showing the film scenes to managers and leaders in many Fortune 500 companies, governmental and not-for-profit organizations.

The participants’ comments and leadership insights confirmed John Clemens’ hunch. Two short clips from Dead Poets Society, for example, generated a spirited dialog about how leaders move people out of their comfort zones—and how innovation requires the courage to challenge conventional wisdom. The inspiring St. Crispin’s Day scene from the film Henry V sparked discussion about how effective leaders build commitment by painting a clear picture of the future. The award-winning basketball film Hoosiers stimulated a rich dialogue about transformational leadership—getting people to do what they thought was impossible. Sister Act catalyzed an examination of how a leader turns a dysfunctional group into a high performing team.

John Clemens (with co-author Melora Wolff) soon translated his research into another book, Movies to Manage By: Lessons in Leadership from Great Films (Contemporary Books, 1999) and began delivering keynote speeches and seminars based on his findings. He adds new film clips regularly, and relates real-world management and leadership successes and failures in each of his presentations. He also enhances each film clip with Power Point slides that summarize the key learning points. Audience members record new leadership insights and commit to new leadership behaviors. They find John Clemens’ keynote speeches and seminars to be unforgettable, with takeaways that they can begin to put into use immediately.

More information on Mr. Clemens can also be found at the Washington Speakers Bureau.


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