Leadership, Communication And Checking The Compass

Good morning to each of you.

It is another Sunday as we now sense the onset of fall.  This rain reminds me of my early days as a boy in Seattle. A gentler drizzle than we usually experience in Oklahoma, but the refreshing of the air and the nurturing of the land and us is the same.

This past week was dominated by political struggles in the country and touch-and-go diplomacy abroad related to Syria, Iran and other issues.  The world’s leaders will gather this week at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, the body to which all 194 member states are officially accredited. Much closer to home are the issues of immediate interest to you.

But this session will be a particularly relevant and closely-monitored gathering given the gravity of the issues facing the international community.  Heads of state and governments will address that Assembly over several days.  President Obama will be speaking early in the session, likely this coming Tuesday.

We were indeed fortunate to welcomed Oklahoma Senator Clark Jolley as our Lessons in Leadership presenter this past week.  Senator Jolley is a staunch advocate for higher education in our state.  As you know his district includes UCO and he is most helpful to the university is its relationship with the Oklahoma legislature.

I appreciated Clark’s message on leadership under fire.  He and all who serve in pivotal leadership positions quickly experience the maxim that someone is going to be unhappy with whatever decision you reach or action you initiate.  As a leader you deal with criticism.  How you do so differentiates affirming, successful leaders from others.  He was most helpful in counseling that we differentiate the policy differences from the personalities advocating or challenging them.  This can translate into demanding choices where there is not fully a right or wrong answer.  In those moments, transformative leaders are guided by a set of values and an implicit understanding of the short and long-term impact of the decision.  Clark spoke to earning the respect of colleagues and even adversaries if you are honest and transparent in your motivations and actions.

None of this is easy.  No one should pretend that it is.  Hundreds of volumes and countless addresses and seminars have been devoted to exploring the depths and modes of effective leadership. Clark’s counsel about the primacy of communication as a potent leadership tool is among his most actionable advice. The prime facets of communication, speaking, writing, reading and listening, can combine, over time and with practice, to be key in a leader’s ability to serve others no matter the role or circumstance. Listening, active listening, can be among the most effective tools of effective leadership.  Like all mastered skills, it requires practice and persistence and, I believe, the clear motivation for the use of the tool and the leadership position. What moves us to accept an opportunity in the first place?  A possible topic for a later conversation.

By now you should have a clearer measure of expectations for success in the university environment.  I hope that you are making connections with organizations and activities that interest you, and that you are beginning to identify reliable and motivated learning partners here among the class as well as with other students.  It is not too early to begin the search for a mentor or mentors, those members of our UCO community, factory and staff, with whom you make a connection and can offer you guidance, encouragement and perspective as the year continues to unfold.  Jarrett ( our Dr. Jobe) is a most likely and useful place to begin, as I am sure many of you have discovered.  Please overcome whatever reticence you may have and reach out.  There is an entire university community ready to assist you as you sort out the opportunities and complexities of decision-making.  We are here to help you learn and succeed.

Make this last full week in September an occasion to review your first 6 weeks at UCO and insure that your compass is set on “true north” for you. I know it can seem like you are frenetically moving from one class, event and demand to another without making the clear connection between what you are doing and why.

We all need to check to be sure that we have our “eyes on the prize” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once counseled.  I highly recommend it.  This personal checklist helps me often during the week.

I wish each of you a week of discovery, of learning and creating new connections with others, and also a time to refresh with friends and have fun.

I believe in you.  You will make a difference.

Don Betz