Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

To ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.

On Leadership With Dr. Glenn "Max" McGee

In an interview with IMSA President Dr. Glenn “Max” McGee, we look at his views of leadership and how they translate into fulfilling IMSA’s mission to “ignite and nurture creative, ethical minds that advance the human condition.”

IMSA President Dr. Glenn W. "Max" McGee and IMSA students Brittany Kwamin and Whitney Kwamin (right) of the IMSA Kids Institute get ready to cut the ribbon of IMSA's new Metro East Field Office serving southern Illinois educators and students.

When talking about leadership you often refer to the book, Leadership on the Line by Heifetz and Linsky. What section is particularly meaningful to you?

McGee:   Here’s an excerpt that I often quote from the book, “Exercising leadership can get you into a lot of trouble … To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold….Leadership is worth the risk because the goals extend beyond material gain or personal advancement. By making the lives of people around you better, leadership provides meaning in life.”

How do you connect the themes of the book with your views on leadership?  

McGee: Above all, leadership is about service in creating conditions, removing obstacles and taking purposeful action to make peoples’ lives better. That theme aligns perfectly with IMSA’s mission to “ignite and nurture creative, ethical scientific minds that advance the human condition.”  IMSA also aspires to be “the world’s leading teaching and learning laboratory for imagination and inquiry.”  Leading means going first. Leadership is also:

* Developing leadership capacity in colleagues.
* Focusing on a few, high priority initiatives.
* Action - getting things done for people.

Leadership is built on trust, relationships and some inspiration.  It is built on having the courage to persevere, rise above self doubts and challenge the status quo.

How do your views connect with your role as IMSA’s president?

McGee: As president, I start each day thinking about:

* What I can do to drive our mission – igniting and nurturing creative, ethical scientific minds.
* What will I do in actions and words to instill individual and institutional commitment to advancing the human condition.
* Where my opportunities are to develop and support leadership among our students and staff.

You not only encourage students to be leaders in the fields of mathematics and science, you also encourage them to get involved in government. Why is that?

McGee: There has never been a time of greater need for creative, ethical scientific minds that advance the human condition … especially in government.  There is no doubt that many of IMSA’s graduates will make great discoveries, be successful entrepreneurs and solve our most challenging problems of hunger and sustainable energy.  That is one of my most fervent wishes.  The other, however, is that they get active in local government—or even state or national government—because we need their creative, ethical scientific minds, their big ideas and their abilities to solve tough problems. I would love to see them serve on community and philanthropic boards and be active in public service.

How does IMSA’s Strategic Plan fit into the concept of leadership?

McGee: Over the past several decades, IMSA has received many honors, accolades and awards for its achievements.  Such honors can tempt an organization to rest on its laurels. Our Strategic Plan ensures that we use our curiosities, energies and resources to continuously create and implement bold and innovative strategies and practices that help us reach our aspiration to be the world’s leading teaching and learning laboratory for imagination and inquiry.

Can you cite several examples of how the Strategic Plan has promoted program leadership?

McGee:  Our third Strategy addresses program expansion which challenges us to make a broad impact on inquiry-based teaching and learning. To that end, we are establishing Field Offices in Chicago, Metro East and Rock Island so we can deliver programs that better address the local needs of teachers and students. We’ve also created conditions that enable our highly talented faculty to share their inquiry-based instructional practices with teachers across Illinois. For example, we partnered with Regional Offices of Education and the Abbott Fund to host a Professional Learning Day for 200 Illinois teachers.  On that day, our science and mathematics faculty members engaged teachers in hands-on, interactive workshops and activities. IMSA and our faculty received rave reviews from participants.  

Another Strategy focuses on fostering innovation and entrepreneurial talent.  Through this strategy, we’ve created CoolHub.IMSA, a collaborative innovation network that enables learners of all ages to develop ideas and solve real-world problems. For example, through a unique system of Web-based collaboration tools, CoolHub.IMSA is enabling students in IMSA’s Environmental Chemistry class to connect with world-wide science experts and students from various high schools to address storm water purification which certainly does make life better for a whole lot of people.

So, do you connect leadership with improving lives?

McGee: Absolutely! That happens through service and developing the capacity in others to lead and to contribute to achieving IMSA’s mission. I am happiest when I see what great work our staff, students and alumni do. To paraphrase one of my favorite proverbs, “When the best leader’s work is done, people will say, ‘We did it ourselves!’”