Drinking Water from a Fire Hose

When you are brought in from the outside to lead an organization there is a lot to learn and little time to do it. Your honeymoon is short. Everybody is anxiously waiting to see what you will do. The longer it takes you to act, the more time for inertia to set in. So you need to prioritize quickly. Expect to put in lots of long hours trying to get up to speed. The challenge for a new leader is frequently likened to drinking water from a fire hose.

So for the next few months, I will be furiously drinking from that hose. I need to understand my colleagues: where we have consensus about our values, aspirations and strategies; where we disagree, and what needs to be done to build a credible vision for the future that will move us forward.

I need to understand how our external stakeholders view us, especially donors, the business community and governmental leaders: What they see as our strengths and weaknesses; what roles they think we can play in helping to build the central Florida economy; what they expect from UCF graduates; and what motivates them to participate in our endeavors.

I need to understand our alums. They are the legacy upon which we will build our future and an important asset for us in mentoring students, employing our graduates and projecting our brand. We need a vision they can rally behind and that will celebrate their success.

And I need to understand our students: how well they have been prepared for college; their professional goals and aspirations; what we need to do to put them in the best position to compete and where we are falling short of their expectations.

And finally from engaging with all of these different groups, I need to understand what defines the UCF experience; what makes us unique and how we can build on that uniqueness to provide a distinctive value proposition.

Yep, that’s a lot to do and I want to get it done in six months or less so that I can move from understanding to action. If it is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that drinking water from a fire hose is a lot harder to do when you are talking. So I plan on doing a lot of listening over the next few months. I will do plenty of talking later.

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