Help Me to Understand

An epic failure culminated in the resignation of the President of the University of Missouri on Monday. It was a failure of leadership.  Like most failures it was because the leader wasn’t listening and failed to understand.  Sometimes the message comes from the market and the leader refuses to change when the market does.  Sometimes the message comes from people who are different from the leader asking for respect and the opportunity to succeed. Frequently in these situations the leader refuses to reach out and try to understand things outside their own experience.  In this instance, it took a football team willing to take a stand to get people to listen.  When they did, the President was done.  Game over.

I try to practice what I preach– to learn from failure and seek out people who are different from me to help me understand what is going on. I pride myself on having a very extensive and diverse network built on thirty years of experience and I knew just who to seek out in this instance: The people behind the Coke machines in BA-2.  They are the National Consortium on Academics and Sports.  I sit on their board and they specialize in using the power of sports to promote positive social change.  Missouri was clearly in their wheelhouse.

Now when the Dean shows up unannounced in your office at 8 am on a Tuesday morning, you think something bad is about to happen.  Keith had that look on his face when I knocked on his door.  Then we started a dialogue and he “helped me to start to understand, what I didn’t understand” (a phrase he used in our discussion that stuck) about Missouri.  I continued this conversation in the afternoon with a wider group because I wanted to bring this dialogue to our students.  It is a conversation that involves risk taking, collaborating with people different from you and getting way outside your comfort zone: things the President of Missouri didn’t want to do.  And he learned ignoring the problem was his most risky choice–doing nothing cost him his job. I do not want to repeat his mistakes.

The Exchange was built for exactly this reason: To have conversations important to your future. So on Monday, we are going to have a very special Exchange. I am asking Keith and Ericka Dunlap (our alum and Miss America) to lead a conversation about Missouri and what we can all do to make sure we have a culture of engagement for everyone in the College. We are going to hold two sessions: One at 10 am and another at 2 pm. Sign up for one session only. Get involved and make a difference where it matters most- in the relationships you can build with your fellow students.  I will see you there.

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One thought on “Help Me to Understand

  1. One important lesson I learned while on 28 years of active duty was “inspect what you expect.” Which means, set your goals, develop the metrics to measure progress and then get out among the troops–you can’t lead by e-mail or memos. Nothing beats the unslabashed honestness of a 19 or 20 year old troop telling the commander what is really happening on the flight line. It also allows the commander to get his imperatives down to lowest ranks without having it “filtered” by the people in the chain of command. Naturally, the feedback has to be taken with a large grain of salt. But, the phrase “out of the mouths of babes” will have a lot more clarity to one. But I still recall the phrase, “Management by walking around” or MBWA that I learned as an undergrad at UCF back on the day–I always took time out to get out from behind the desk and get among my people both to get to know them better and keep my technical skills up to date. For those really interested in good leadership lessons get hold of Colin Powell’s book or his PowerPoint slides (got a copy of them while he was CJCS when I was a young captain and would review them on a regular basis…good advice) to learn how leaders should be leading. By going out among the people of your outfit in a regular basis they will not view your presence as a harbinger of trouble but more likely one of interested in them and their work.

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