Reflections on Leadership

I was recently asked to provide some reflections on leadership for publication in the Rochester Leadership Digest. That assignment gave me an opportunity to organize my thoughts on the topic of leadership, which I’ve learned from my own experiences or gleaned from other leaders. I share them here, with an invitation for others to also reflect on the question and articulate your own response:

Q: WHAT LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLES INSPIRE YOU AND WHY?

John Maxwell states that Leadership is Influence, and I believe our goal in desiring influence should come from a desire to better serve people and our organization. The degree and attitude with which one uses one’s resources to serve others is critical to the impact you can have. If your motivation for influence is self, people will see through that and you will have less influence. If your motivation is for the betterment of others, people will likewise see that and your influence will expand.

A leader doesn’t have hidden agendas. She or he is clear, honest and transparent, and strives to create genuine relationships both internally and externally. As a purposeful leader, it is important to be an avid promoter of the mission and purpose of the organization, to be completely invested in its success and to communicate regularly with one’s team. Whether the communication is through a town-hall-style gathering, a community-wide email memo, or simply being personally present and available to our campus community, I have found that being transparent and truthful can effectively change the culture of the community.

When it comes to building relationships, engagement is key to developing long-term commitment. The Roberts and Northeastern family of alumni numbers more than 18,000, and they are an important component of our long-term success. Not just as potential donors—they represent a foundation of support through their past experiences on campus, their years of professional expertise and their broad network of connections around the world. We need their input on many levels, so it is important for me to attend alumni events held throughout the year and set aside January and February for travel to visit alumni, particularly in Florida and Arizona. Although I go as an ambassador for sharing good news and campus updates, it is equally important to hear their stories and their reflections on our work. I learn so much from these interactions and am so grateful for the opportunity to see things from their perspective.

Maya Angelou notes, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” If we honestly esteem the value of all people as created in the image of God, we will reflect that dignity back to them to make them feel good, valued and important. These connections can happen regardless of one’s official position or title, so truly one can become a leader—a person of influence—at every level of an organization. My hope is that my service as leader will demonstrate that principle to each member of our campus community through empathy and authenticity. In keeping with our founder, B.T. Roberts, our faith is our primary motivation for an attitude of vigilant concern that all people, especially those who are oppressed, underrepresented or unfairly treated, deserve our attention, activism and advocacy.

Another important way to esteem the people around us is through a strength-based work ethic. Using the Strength-Finder inventory tool with our staff and administration has made a huge difference in our ability to grow as a team, develop and maximize each person’s potential and understand each other’s unique slate of strengths. This kind of self-awareness and understanding of one another’s contributions builds trust, confidence and hopefulness as we lean into our future together.

Finally, I believe that it is critical for any who would lead to learn to listen well. Having the humility to hear and consider what others are saying is the best way to begin to serve others as their leader. Whether through a formal mentoring relationship or in a casual friendship, a leader will earn respect, foster genuine relationships and steer an organization through all kinds of situations if she can hear and receive input from those around her.  

 

How Will I Use My Voice?

“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
 
This week we celebrate the life and contributions of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and strive to learn again what it means to live in community together celebrating the uniqueness of each person and pressing forward to confront injustices that exist today. 
 
But what about the rest of the year? I have been challenged to think about how Dr. King’s leadership and message would be lived out in our lives beyond a specific day or week. This question compels me to reflect on my own life and challenges me to pay attention to what is happening each day. Dr. King’s reminder of the cost of keeping silent is a potent motivation throughout the year. What am I called to do to make a difference in my community? How can I use my life and role to encourage and support God-honoring diversity at Roberts and Northeastern? What does it look and sound like to speak up – to raise my voice – on issues of racism and injustice?
 
This week we celebrate a leader who did not remain silent, but instead lead with passion and conviction. He challenged us to think differently, to stand against injustice and to use our voice to speak up. My prayer is that I will be a person of voice, standing with a life of action and intention.
 
After writing the above thoughts I attended the funeral of Judge Roy Wheatley King, former Trustee of Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary and Rochester City Judge. During the service many spoke of his love for God, his family and the City. Most striking were the stories of compassion and loving direction he gave to so many. Judge King lived a life of passion and conviction. He was known to stand in the space where justice and grace could allow for transformation and redemption. He believed in people beyond their circumstances and worked to create a path forward for many. How fitting to know someone who lived out the principles and commitment of Dr. King each day. Again I ask myself, how will I live my life? 

Reflections on Charlottesville

This last weekend we witnessed another example of our divided country and separated beliefs during an event that pushed our nation farther apart. What took place in Charlottesville, and continues around our nation, leaves me asking myself how we model for our students the courage to stand against those who represent hate, bigotry and racism while at the same time communicating God’s love in how we disagree.

Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary stand against white supremacy, hatred, bigotry and racism as we have for over 150 years. Our founder fought for the freedoms of all people and modeled what it means to stay anchored in faith and engaged in the world around him. I can’t help but think of what B.T. Roberts would do today in light of the current situation in our country. It is clear to me that he would stand with those who are being subjected to acts of hatred and violence.

For such a time as this Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary exist. We exist to stay anchored in our faith and engaged in this world – to speak truth, to call out injustice and to stand with those whose rights are being challenged. It is hard and it will require strength, perseverance and courage. There is no greater time or need for institutions like Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary to honor our mottos of Education for Character and Preparation for Ministry. There is no greater time to live out our mission to graduate people who are good neighbors, who make right and ethical decisions and who stand against injustice. There is no greater time to show love, stand against hatred and focus on the skills needed to lead change.

Why Diversity Matters

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve been thinking something since June 2016 when I first read a blog posted by a new faculty member at Northeastern Seminary. It has stayed with me because I was overcome with emotion as I read it. Touched by the transparency and grace in which the blog was written, moved by a reality I do not know and confronted by my responsibility to make a change. Yes, one blog (and the moving of the Holy Spirit!) can do that.

I grew up understanding that all people are created by God and my job is to see and love those I come in contact with. And I agreed with that. In my own naïve mind I thought knowing this was enough. Most of my education has taken place in Christian communities, unfortunately not reflecting the beauty of God’s diversity. As I began my professional career I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be a part of diversity training and began understanding my own limits and biases. I learned I have privilege and access that others do not.  I learned I have a responsibility, given my privilege and position, to create access for others. To imply that I have “arrived” or understand fully would be an overstatement. I am still continuing on this journey of fully understanding God’s intended world.

After reading the June 2016 blog what came to mind was “This is why diversity matters!”

Diversity is important because it allows us to have a community of different perspectives. It allows us to begin to understand each other in new ways. It challenges us to break down the stereotypes around us and in our own minds. But what I read in this blog is different. It shows me diversity matters because we need to see ourselves in those around us. We need to see it in faculty, staff, students, alumni; teachers, lawyers, doctors, pastors and leaders. And yes, we needed to see diversity at the highest positions in our country. As I read this blog I heard why having a diverse campus for our students, our faculty and staff is important. And I heard that without it we may never fully understand the fullness and richness of who God is.

Today, as we celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who stood tirelessly and faithfully in the face of opposition to gain freedom and equality for the oppressed, I am reminded of why diversity matters and the action I am called to take.

The blog that opened my eyes was In God’s Good Time: On My First Class at Northeastern Seminary, written by faculty member Esau McCaulley. With his permission I have attached the link below. I encourage you to take a moment to read it. As I carefully read each word he wrote, I heard his heart, I heard his joy, I heard his pain and I heard his hope. May his words spur you to a new way of envisioning God’s kingdom and the world around you.

https://esaudmccaulley.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/in-gods-good-time-my-first-class-at-northeastern-seminary/

An Undeserving Gift

My favorite childhood memory of Easter is at my Grandma and Grandpa Stevens’ house. The extended family would come together for the afternoon meal, for which Grandma had prepared all of our favorite foods. My favorite? The deviled eggs. Each person had his or her favorite food and Grandma would make an extra amount of whatever it was you loved and send it home with you after the meal. As a young child, I never thought about the hours she must have spent preparing and cooking so that all 15 to 20 people could go home with something. I loved this day and my personal plate of deviled eggs because I felt special and I knew Grandma loved me. Looking back now, all I see is the selfless acts of love and her sweet smile that was always patient as we ran in and out of the kitchen waiting for the meal to be served.

This week I have been reflecting on the selfless gift given to each of us. How amazing it is that God would send his son to die on the cross, so we might have eternal life. I am aware of my own limits and in awe of such grace. How truly humbling to be so undeserving, yet given such a gift.

As we break for Good Friday and the Easter weekend, I pray each of you will be able to be with those you love, and have time to reflect on the amazing gift of salvation we have been given. Death could not keep him – He is Risen!

Email sent to the Roberts and Northeastern community.