Modified from a column published on October 25, 2015
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, be good learners, do what they otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t do, 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 should positively educate students as leaders and followers. Thankfully, the Rogers LEAD WT program does just that.
A student choosing a place to study should consider these ideas:
One — A Forbes commentary says that a primary university responsibility is to teach leadership. Many things learned will be forgotten before stepping off the graduation dais. Make sure a selected college models and 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 experienced 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 for a season in that class. I learned and remember daily 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 a more important takeaway than the intricacies of FORTRAN.
Two — University faculty and staff should place student needs and aspirations ahead of their own exhibiting selflessness. If anyone treats a student as a customer, they miss the boat. Students are apprentices. Students and families pandered to for tuition, and fee dollars should make a quick exit. A good university should make student aspirations and dreams its first pursuit. And, don’t expect anything for nothing. Servants lead. Self-centeredness is never leadership and institutions that model that should fall off any list of serious considerations.
Three — If faculty members seem more interested in 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 have achieved excellent status as professionals but don’t have time or inclination to talk with students directly, apprehension is warranted. Students should be good followers, and good followers demand good leaders, according to Harvard Business Review. A personal commitment to nurturing time always creates stronger followers, and those followers become leaders. That is the job of a good university, no matter the class rank, test scores or GPAs of the freshman class.
Four — If a university has no clear vision about where it wants to go, it is difficult to learn leadership. How can an organization without vision teach vision and leaders must have it? Tools and techniques are essential but being engaged in the imperatives of making a better life for yourself, for those you love and for the community and country you serve requires vision. Strong universities teach leadership through clarity of sight.
Five — Leadership is stewardship. If a university is falling apart, countenances low maintenance of the facilities used to support educational activity, is 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 was a landscape architect. 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 students develop leadership skills. It should be a great place to study. Rogers LEAD WT helps students at West Texas A&M University learn to lead.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His reflections are available at https://walterwendler.com/.