I’ve been blessed and stressed with the privilege of leading in my life.
I consider my leadership experience to be a gift from God and I wouldn’t trade any part of it, even the most difficult times. One reason leadership is special to me is I believe I was (and still am in a different assignment) doing what the Lord wanted me to do, and another is that I learned a few things.
It sometimes bothers me when I read leadership books or articles written by people who’ve never led anything. It’s not that you can’t learn from them. Of course you can. On the other hand, experience counts for something in everything we do in life. My first experience in upper-level administration began in 1988 and in one assignment or another continues to this day.
Giving Good To Whom It Is Due In the fall of that first year I hung a Bible verse, written in calligraphy, on my office wall. It’s never left my wall to this day. I can see it now as I write. This verse is a reminder and a commitment:
“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it” (Proverbs 3:27, KJV).
I have not always measured up, but I’ve tried to make this principle a key ingredient of my leadership philosophy. In that spirit, one of my favorite leadership tasks has always been handing out awards, especially at graduation. For years I told university audiences “Commencement is my favorite day of the year.” That day like no other expressed what we were about.
Celebrating faculty or staff book publications is another example. Recognizing authors in front of their peers with a gift of a matted, framed cover of their new book is big-time fun.
Ideas-That-Weren't-Mine I also enjoyed citing what I called “Ideas-That-Weren’t-Mine.” Certainly not every great idea came from me, even if as president I was usually the one who took the idea to the Board, personnel, students, constituency, or the public. Pointing to beautiful buildings or growing programs or successful projects and remembering aloud by name the person who birthed the idea was and is a great way to enjoy highpoints.
A leader’s satisfaction shouldn’t come from trying to be the most brilliant person in the organization. Leaders who try this usually bloom early and quickly wilt. No one can keep up with this and no one else wants to endure it. A leader’s satisfaction should come in helping develop an organization that attracts talented and dedicated people, one where they want to work, stay, and thrive.
Leaders In Demand Leaders are always faced with the question of demand. Everyone wants a piece of whoever wears the top hat. I tried to be visible on campus in as many places and as often as reasonable—the “managing by walking around” idea. Of course, others often defined reasonable differently. But a leader has to make these decisions in a way that stewards the entire organization, as well as his or her needs and family life, not just those of a given interest group. I liked to speak regularly in chapel so the student body remembered who I was and hopefully connected with me. I wrote regularly for the student newspaper, which I strongly supported and believe is a key ingredient in a healthy university.
Taking A Position I tried to avoid “university positions.” Issues come and go, but whatever they are, people usually want an organization, especially a Christian university, to “take a position.” At times I stated “my position,” but except for a few key moral questions, I tried to side-step making statements that purported to be the “university position.” Not every issue controversy—actually not very many issue controversies—require a “university position.” I told people the university had a stated mission, values, and doctrinal statement, beyond this, for the most part “positions” should be the province of the faculty, staff, and students.
Decision-Making Finally, as I reflect, I can’t identify very many decisions about which I can say, “I did that.” Obviously I made many operational decisions in the course of daily administration. But I’m talking about leadership style and the fact that the bigger or more significant the decision, the less likely the leader should make it alone. This was true for me, contrary to what people often thought. Think of it this way: “If you’re going to play your cards close to your chest, you’d better be good.” Why not take advantage of the talent and experience around you?
Once a decision was made, I announced it—and if necessary, took the hits. It’s the leader’s job to share the credit and absorb the blame, whether or not he or she deserves either at any given time.
Leadership is not about the leader. It’s about the mission and vision of the organization, the people who make this possible, and the contribution to the greater good an organization makes. Sounds lofty, but that’s what makes leadership, at least effective leadership, significant and fun.
© 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.