Our culture tends to celebrate the self and encourage us to center our lives on searching for our own happiness. However, when you look at the leaders we most admire, they are people who take up a cause often at great personal sacrifice. New York Times columnist David Brooks in a recent column noted, “Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.” Most of the successful leaders I have interviewed inspire their teams by their own commitment and personal sacrifice.
When I visited with Jason Dean, president of Fidelis Policy Group, I was reminded of Brooks’ column and perspective. Jason is a leader who is investing his life in greater causes. He believes strongly in the value of education and the potential of our state and country. He completed his undergraduate degree at USM, and he went on to earn his Ph.D. in education from Ole Miss. He served as member of the faculty and administration at Ole Miss before being asked to join Gov. Barbour’s staff in 2003 as a policy advisor. In 2006, he served a year as a White House Fellow working at the Department of Education. Founded in 1964, this prestigious program is for leadership and public service. These fellowships offer young men and women experience working at the highest levels of the federal government. Notable alumni include Gen. Colin Powell, Sen. Samuel Brownback,and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Jason shared that he had the opportunity to visit with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and he asked him if he was in his 30s where he would put his energies and talents, and Gov. Bush responded that “he would go where the challenges are because only there would you find a real sense of fulfillment.” Upon the completion of his fellowship, Jason was motivated to put his education and experiences to use, and he decided to come back to Mississippi to help do his part to make Mississippi a great state. He took a job as vice president of economic policy at the Mississippi Economic Council and as COO of Momentum Mississippi. In this position, he began to play an important role not only in education policy, but also economic policy.
In January 2010, Jason launched Fidelis Policy Group, which is a public policy and economic development firm. The firm was formed to add more breadth and depth to the economic and education growth in Mississippi by providing issue research, fundraising and grant-writing for non-profits and organizational strategic planning and leadership. Some of Fidelis’ clients include Mississippi Energy Policy Institute, Excel by 5, Mississippi Center for Education and Innovation, The Nature Conservancy and Mississippi Broadband Connect Coalition.
Given all of the leaders Jason has worked with and learned from, I was curious to know what he had learned about leadership. He shared, “Admiral Thad Allen, who at the time was head of the U.S. Coast Guard, gave the simplest and most accurate definition of leadership I have heard: it occurs when capacity meets opportunity. I took this to mean that opportunity is partly a mix of broadening your life experiences with the luck of timing, which really isn’t much under our control. Capacity, on the other hand, is something we can always make better.” He emphasized that all have the ability to improve our capacity by continuously “sharpening the saw — voraciously reading books and magazines, thoughtfully networking and critically thinking about and contextualizing the issues you care about.”
Being around people like Jason get you excited about being a Mississippian. Based on his information and experience, he passionately believes that Mississippi is poised for great things. As he said to me, “If you can’t get excited about the future of Mississippi, you just don’t care or you just aren’t trying!” I am excited to see emerging leaders like Jason who are investing their lives in being a part of tomorrow’s solutions today.
Up Close With … Dr. Jason Dean
Title: President, Fidelis Policy Group
Favorite Leadership Books: ”Servant Leadership” (Robert Greenleaf); “Team of Rivals” (Doris Kearns Goodwin); Biographies by David McCullough and Edmund Morris; “The Fountainhead” (Ayn Rand); and “Halftime” (Bob Buford)
First Job: “Beginning in junior high, I hung drywall at $3 per hour.”
Favorite Media Resources: ”I learn from a lot of media sources including The Economist, Wall Street Journal; Politico; Magnolia Report, Yall Politics and Real Clear Politics.”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “No question — after Hurricane Katrina, I was working for Gov. Barbour, and I had the opportunity to work closely with the school superintendents on the Gulf Coast to address the educational challenges they faced.”