Organizations train leaders, for better or worse. Various enterprises are hotbeds for positive leadership training: manufacturing, public service, retail, professional services, and universities provide examples. Effective leadership causes people to change their perspective, to do what they otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t do, to achieve what was previously unattainable. Some people are comfortable with the status quo. Such complacency adds little to individual ability or organizational value. Leading — and following to the surprise of many people — requires a willingness to assume risk. Both skills can be learned.
Universities that don’t positively educate students as leaders, and followers, miss an opportunity to serve.
Here are a few thoughts for students.
One — A primary responsibility of any university is to teach leadership. Almost everything else you learn will be forgotten before you step off the stage at graduation. Make sure the place you study teaches moral, ethical, and intellectual leadership. Having studied architecture at excellent universities, I value the architectural knowledge that I gleaned from being around knowledgeable faculty and students. But the technical know-how pales compared to the concepts of leadership and integrity placed before me through the lives of students, faculty and staff with whom I came in contact. I learned FORTRAN programming on an IBM 360 computer on the second floor of Cushing Memorial library at Texas A&M University. It was taught by expert faculty in computer science. Today, I can’t prepare a punch-card or write a single line of programming code: Skills acquired, if for a season, in that class. What I did learn, and remember daily, was that the most dedicated students carried decks of punch cards in and out of that room relentlessly — working like dogs. Dedication to purpose, the nucleus of leadership, was more important than FORTRAN.
Two – University workers, from top to bottom, including faculty and staff, should place your needs and aspirations ahead of theirs. If anyone treats you as a customer, ask them not to do so. See yourself as an apprentice. If they pander to you for your tuition and fee dollars, make an exit. Give the institution every chance to make your aspirations and dreams its first pursuit, and don’t expect anything for nothing. Servants lead. Self-centeredness is never leadership.
Three – If faculty members seem more interested in their travel schedules, are unavailable outside of posted office hours, or not willing to counsel you about career and personal hopes press them for time. If faculty members belong to the National Academy of Science but don’t have time or inclination to talk with you about your goals, I would find one or two who do. If you can’t, find another place to study. You have to be a good follower, and good followers demand good leaders. A personal commitment of nurturing time always creates stronger followers. Leaders.
Four — If a university has no clear vision about where it wants to go that they can share with you it is difficult to stay there and expect to learn leadership. How can an organization without vision teach you to have vision? If it can’t teach you to have vision, you may be learning tools and techniques but you are not engaged in the imperatives of making a better life for yourself, for those you love, and for the community and country you serve. Strong organizations teach leadership through clarity of sight.
Five – Leadership is stewardship. If you attend a university that is falling apart, that countenances low maintenance of the facilities used to support educational activity, that seems careless towards the environment in any manifestation, find another place to study. I once asked a faculty member what his most important job was. He said, “If I see a piece of paper on the ground I bend over and pick it up.” The conversation that followed addressed the importance of stewardship of the built and natural environment, and this faculty member believed “showing it” was an essential part of teaching. Demonstrated stewardship is leadership.
Universities that act on these and similar values create a learning leading laboratory that will help you develop leadership skills. Apply there; it will be a great place to study.
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