Are You An Ambassador?

Ambassador-a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity.

I believe education is a relational good.  It isn’t produced or consumed alone.  It requires the active participation of others.  The more people who engage in it by sharing their insights, challenging convention and searching for shared understanding, the more valuable the education becomes. The more valuable the education, the more promising your future.

The problem is that most people don’t understand that education is an enlightening experience that develops mindsets, provides the perspective that gives knowledge meaning and leads to better purposeful action. People are also busy and education is inconvenient.  It demands your full attention when you would rather be doing something else.  So, they look for shortcuts: They want to google their education.  But knowledge without perspective is frequently misapplied.  They are conditioned to think that good grades reflect learning. So they cram to succeed on that exam. But temporary mastery of content is not the same as sustained mastery of action. They graduate with a good gpa, totally unprepared for what lies ahead.

The hardest thing for any leader to do is to help people work toward a future they have yet to experience.  The cost of working toward any vision are up-front and known.  The benefits of the vision are in the future and fuzzy.  Convenience favors the status quo. And because education is a relational good, an enlightening experience that cannot be created or consumed alone, I need ambassadors: people who will engage and promote the common future and enlightening experience we seek. I cannot do this myself. I need people who will advocate for the cause, create converts and move the needle forward.

If you “get” what I’m talking about and want to work toward this vision, apply to be an ambassador. It will be an enlightening and rewarding leadership experience for you.   The application process begins this week.  If instead, your looking for a co-curricular activity that will add balance to those good grades and round out your resume, we are not for you.  Your real education will have to take place somewhere else. If you are unsure about whether you are up to the challenge, have a conversation with Jennifer Johnson.  She runs the ambassadors program as well as The Exchange.  Conversation is at the heart of the educational experience and who knows, talking with her  just might inspire you to join us.

Going Out On Your Terms

I spend most of my time thinking about how to prepare people to reinvent themselves every few years. Conventional wisdom is that market change is accelerating, that disruption is everywhere, that jobs are fleeting and that to get ahead, you have to change rapidly. Forget working for the same company for your entire career. Heck, forget about having one career. Embrace change, because it’s coming whether you like it or not.

Saturday was different. I attended Joe Melbourne’s retirement party. Joe has lead CFE Credit Union for 20 years. He has been with them for 23 years. His board wanted to extend his contract another five years. Joe’s response was that nobody wanted to be dealing with him when he’s 81. If that’s not a textbook example of going out on your own terms, I don’t know what is. Joe has been a great friend and supporter of UCF and the college. So a number of people from UCF were in attendance, including Dr. Hitt –another guy who is going to get to leave on his terms one day.

With two leaders of such unusual longevity in the same room, I couldn’t help but speculate about whether they shared some traits that account for their amazing runs leading their organization’s. Both of them have overseen enormous growth, and let’s be honest, they don’t keep you if you’re not winning. Both of them are very genuine and are loved by their employees. Heck, both of them have been around so long that they have essentially hired everyone in their organizations, and people tend to be the most loyal to the person who hired them. But I think a key to both their longevity may be their emphasis on partnership.

There is a view that as CEO tenure lengthens, internal harmony improves because everyone learns to better coordinate with each other, build trust and align. Yet over time this familiarity tends to make the CEO more insular, more risk-averse and more likely to favor the status quo. They become less attuned to external market changes and performance declines. But an emphasis on partnership might mitigate the tendency to be insular. It requires you to be out and about and in tune with your partner’s needs. Joe’s heavy involvement with UCF might help explain why a leader in his 70s made it a strategic priority to understand and meet the needs of his youngest customers. Or maybe the causality works the other way around. Either way, I think the partnership link mattered to Joe’s success in much the same way it does for Dr. Hitt.

Maybe my theory is driven by my hope that Joe benefitted from our partnership as much as we did. He has been a great friend. Joe, when that New York weather gets old, come visit us in the college and share your insights into how we can all go out on our own terms. Or better yet, maybe we could do a Dean’s Speaker Series together on the subject down at the Citrus Club. That would be great fun and give you the opportunity to tell me my theory is a bunch of crap. We both know you can’t pass that opportunity up…lol.

Failure is the Best Teacher

Everyone fails. It is part of life. Rather than pretend it won’t happen, you should count on it and know what you will do to recover from it.  Getting comfortable with failure is a key step in becoming a better risk–taker and successful leader. That is why we celebrate failure and persistence in the college. Today, we begin the eleventh installment of our Failure Competition. Entering our competition is simple:

Write an account of a failure you have experienced in the past. Your failure story has to focus on a time you stepped out of your comfort zone to experience something new: the farther the better. Tell us why this was such a stretch for you, the failure that resulted and what you learned from the experience that would be of interest to others.  It needs to be genuine, people can spot a fish story a mile way.

While the Failure Competition began with students in our capstone class, it is now open to any UCF student on campus: undergraduate, graduate or EMBA, business, education, engineering or whatever. The only requirement is that you currently be enrolled at UCF. About a year ago, we had a music student win the competition.

Need inspiration or guidance to tell your story? Search my blog. We have posted many stories about failure over the years.
Here are the ground rules, complete with important deadlines:

  1. To enter you must post your essay in response to this blog. If you are a capstone student this semester include your section number and name of your instructor. If you are not in this class, tell me your class standing ( e.g., freshman, senior, graduate student) and your field of study. You must complete this exercise by 5 pm on Friday March 24th.  Don’ Worry If You Don’t See it Right Away.  I Have to Accept It.
  2. Instructors from the Capstone Course will then choose a winner from their section and explain why they chose the essay they did. A panel of College staff will choose no more than five finalists for me to consider from the rest of campus. I need these by 5 pm on April 4th.
  3. Those winning entries are then sent to me. I will select three finalists by April 7th at 5 pm.
  4. The finalists will be asked to submit short videos based on their essays. Those videos must be sent to me by 5 pm on April 19th.
  5. I will then feature one video each day on my blog starting April 24th with a vote by everyone reading my blog taking place to determine the winner on Friday April 28th.
  6. The winner will get a letter of recommendation from me along with a $500 prize. Second place will get $300, third place $200. These monies are awarded through our financial aid office.

Good Luck