I hold graduate degrees in political science, so I began my academic career teaching government and politics courses. Later, when I became a university president, I told people “I don’t teach politics anymore, but I practice politics every day.”
Writing for Radio For over 16 years, I was privileged to write a daily radio program. Doing so was not my idea. It was our vice president for broadcasting’s idea, and his vision for what it could do proved correct. Nothing I did garnered more frequent and more positive response, or opened more doors for my day job as president, than the “Making a Difference” radio program.
Philosophy of Life My philosophy of life, something that for years I’ve called “Proactive Stewardship,” also helped me in leadership. Proactive stewardship may be an inelegant phrase, but it captures what I believe the Word of God teaches about leadership. It means that I should be forward-thinking, “pro” rather than “re”-active, and that I am accountable to God for the time, talent, and treasure he’s given me. So I tried to develop a leadership style characterized by a high degree of energy, a strong work ethic courtesy of my father’s and two grandfathers’ influence, a fairly quick work pace, a lot of ideas and “vision” (doesn’t always need to be your own; can embrace anyone’s good ideas and vision), and a hunger to do more and better for the Lord.
Organization Charts One of my favorite maxims regarding perennial debates about organizational structures is that “Any system will work and no system will work. It depends on the people in the system.” I’ve yet to find an organizational chart silver bullet that fixes everything. So, I’m pretty open to changes in the chart when it seems warranted, including titles, because such things are all means to an end: accomplishing the mission. But you also have to remember that titles mean something to people and changing a title can unsettle as well as reinforce personnel.
Developing Leaders I believe in developing leaders throughout the organization. Two corollaries: I believe in strong, which is to say proactive and effective, leadership at all levels, trustees, the president, vice presidents, deans and directors, and personnel. And the stronger the leaders at each link the stronger the chain. And I believe in accountable leadership, first to the Lord as I noted above and then to others.
Making Hard Decisions Making what I called “hard decisions,” those involving people’s job performance or continuance in the organization, are the most stressful any leader faces. The most difficult decisions are those involving the termination of an employee for cause or, even more difficult, a reduction in force required as part of an organizational budget adjustment.
My most challenging time in leadership occurred when the university experienced financial shortfalls and we were forced to make adjustments laying off several staff members. It hurt, relationally, emotionally, physically. It was one of those times in leadership when I had trustees speaking in one ear saying, “You’re doing the right thing,” or “We’re with you on this,” or the one I’ll never forget from a close trustee friend, “I’m walking right beside you in this.” At the same time in the other ear, some personnel, students, or members of the general public called my actions, even my character, into question.
I learned a great deal:
- God’s love is “unfailing” as he promises in the Psalms,
- Some friends are indeed fair-weather,
- The media thrives on controversy not necessarily facts,
- A leader must step up, lead, take the hits, and keep his or her eye on the goal,
- “Laying off” is not the same as “firing,” but it feels the same to the person on the receiving end, which means that only later will this difference make a difference,
- There’s no easy or pleasant way to inform people they’ve lost their job, and there’s certainly no easy or pleasant way to receive this information, but it can be done with dignity and professionalism, and it can be done appropriately in a Christian organization focusing upon its stewardship.
Since that time, I have tried to call or write leaders who’re experiencing difficult times, not to assess or take positions on their actions but to support them as individuals. They always respond with surprise and gratitude and I consider this a new kind of ministry that God has given to me.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2010
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.