Lessons in Leadership
It is the Sunday after Homecoming Week. The weather cooperated all week to add to the splendor of the falls colors breaking our all over the campus.
For many of you this past week has been a non-stop series of events, rehearsals, activities, all amidst your normal long list of projects and responsibilities. I know that many of you participated in Cheer and Dance Friday evening. Your enthusiasm energized all who attended that evening. All of your extra efforts this past week were truly appreciated.
Dan Boren was our guest leader and his focus on the merits of public service. He simply and clearly stated why he, and others, selected a career of public service. “You do it”, he explained, ” to help people.” The position offers you access and opportunity to make a palpable difference in someone else’s life.
His portrait of a “day in the life of a Congressman” chronicled rounds of committee meetings, non-stop fundraising, shuttling between Washington and his home district in eastern Oklahoma. He held town meetings in each of the 25 counties there and dealt with a wide range of issues, both local and personal as well and national and global. Dan also offered us a peek into intra- Congressional life when he spoke of the importance of positive relations with the chamber leadership in order to secure the right committee assignments which, in turn, determine your capacities to assist the citizens of your home district.
As a leader, he quickly learned that each decision will have mixed outcomes depending on the interests being impacted. ” With each vote, or sponsored bill, you will make someone mad.”, Dan commented.
Several of you were interested in his role on the House Intelligence Committee and his visit to Pakistan around the time of Osama bin Laden’s elimination. It should be noted that his father, OU’s President David Boren, was a leading member of the Senate Intelligence Committee when he served in that chamber.
In addressing the matter of his leadership style, Dan emphasized that he voted with his constituency up to 95% of the time. However, there were those moments and issues where he would exercise his own best judgment and vote in what he perceived to be the best interest of the country. Those are leadership moments for him as he would realize that what he knows about an issue eclipses what his constituents may not know and that they may not perceive all the consequences of an impending decision. In those circumstances, his powers of communication are essential to his success.
Dan also emphasized the importance of access to quality public education and that the continuing cuts in public funding are negatively impacting the future of the state.
Dan’s comments about life in balance and informed judgment in decision-making were particularly relevant to the leadership development you have undertaken this semester.
Leadership, as in life, is not lived as a series of easily-taken, clear-cut issues and decisions. Life is composed of varying shades of gray rather than black and white situations. Ron Heifetz writes about “leadership with no easy answers.” It is our ability to function effectively as leaders in the realms of ambiguity and uncertainty that is decisive when making challenging decisions in challenging times.
We are in one of those historic eras which is likely not to change soon. In such circumstances, integrity, competence, compassion, communication, collaboration and character remain timeless ingredients for servant-leadership success.
America’s venerated author and philosopher left us with this timely prescription.
” Always do right. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
May you continue to astonish people.