No, not the kind with dollar signs. The leadership gifts I’m thinking about are of a more intangible nature –although they can ultimately affect the bottom line. As we get our sights focused on next week’s CASE Summit Conference, it feels appropriate to be reflecting on what it takes to be a good leader, regardless of whether it’s managing a team, a project, an event or an organization. It’s a topic I’m personally interested in – both as president and as an informed partner for our clients.
The Feats team reached out recently to friends and colleagues – all leaders in higher education and the not-for-profit world – and asked them to share their thoughts on the most generous gifts a leader can give.
Not surprisingly, the most in-depth reflections centered on the extraordinary contributions that board members can make to an institution. The sentiments shared were both personal and specific:
“Far beyond charitable giving, it is hard to properly estimate the value of the insight that engaged board members can give to an institution. They constantly challenge us to be better, helping us position ourselves nationally, sharpening the message of the value of the institution and giving us honest feedback about how visitors experience the university. The gift of time and leadership is not quantifiable.”
“It’s like having access to Socrates. Every time I sit down with one of our long-time board members it feels like an intensive leadership and management clinic. He is so good at relating his experiences and strategies as a CEO to the work we are trying to accomplish at the university. He helps us understand discipline, process, goal setting and the importance of true focus. He helps me to be a better leader and is a gift to the entire institution.”
“Their gift is how genuine they are and how much they believe in our staff. When they speak to us, we believe what they are saying and that they really care about us. We have no doubt that they get up every day and think about the institution and what it means to them. That kind of enthusiasm is irreplaceable.”
In terms of their own leadership styles or mantras, the responses were a bit more pragmatic but just as thoughtful:
“Good leaders expect a lot from people – they make an individual stretch beyond what s/he thought was possible. Leaders do not accept mediocrity.”
“Fairness is a key ingredient – listen, look beyond the obvious, allow people the space to grow, appreciate different points of view.”
“Look out for the entire organization and know when to accelerate and when to pull back. Step up when no one else will.”
“Remember the Golden Rule and take the high road every time.”
“Always leave the campsite better than you found it.”
It’s my experience that the ultimate success of connecting key stakeholders – internal and external – with vision and message has a lot to do with the kind of leadership that is at the helm. Those of you who read these posts know that Feats has the good fortune to work with many wonderful institutions. Private or public, research or liberal arts, large or small – each team we connect with embraces its mission eagerly and with enthusiasm. They help us all to be better leaders.