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.