Last week, I had the honor of accepting an award recognizing the leadership development work we do within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. While it seemed a daunting task to craft a 15-minute, formal speech to share with 400 conference attendees, it ended up being a wonderful exercise that reminded me of why I do this work everyday. It also gave me an opportunity to share a couple personal stories that illustrate my core values. And it made me reflect, once again, how important it is for leaders to share stories that communicate their values. Sharing those values in an open, authentic way makes us more human and accessible to others. And linking them to your strategy can be a powerful inspiration to those you lead.
Here is a short excerpt from my speech that illustrates two of the core values I shared with the audience last week:
I am deeply honored and humbled by this award. I was asked to talk a little about my leadership journey…which has not always been a very predictable, straight path, but has been one that has blessed me with wonderful people who have influenced me, valuable lessons that I’ve learned along the way, and some core values that guide the work I do in leadership development today.
Some of those values I learned at a very young age. When I was about 6 years old….I remember sitting with my dad in the living room. We were watching Richard Nixon on a small, snowy, black and white TV screen. It was just before the 1968 presidential election and Nixon was holding a TV conference. I didn’t really understand what was being discussed on the television, I just knew that it had to do with something called “politics.” Most importantly, I wanted to be near my dad. While we were sitting there together, my dad turned to me and said, “wow, you’re growing up so fast….before you know it, you’ll be going to college.”
That one statement had a profound impact on my life. It became a matter of fact, an expectation that I would go to college. I’m not sure that I knew exactly what college was at 6 years old, but I knew it was important and it was something that my dad expected of me. As I grew older, I learned that my parents faced barriers that prevented them from going to college. In fact, my mother had received a full scholarship to attend Hamline University, but couldn’t attend, because she needed to work to support herself right out of high school. So as the oldest of 5 kids in our family, I felt very much a pioneer as I marched off to St. Olaf College after high school.
While my dad may not remember that comment he made in our small living room in 1968, I do…. and it has laid the foundation for two core values I hold dear:
1) Education has the power to transform our lives
2) Seeing possibilities for growth in others and encouraging them is a gift we give to our children, to our students, to our colleagues, and to our employees.
These two core values undergird our strategy in leadership development everyday. The leadership development programs we provide do transform lives. They support the success of leaders throughout our system as they learn to lead more effectively. It is so gratifying to observe our leaders who are inspired, challenged, and transformed by what they learn….. to see the lightbulb go off when they make a new connection to a concept, idea, or gain deeper understanding about themselves and those that they lead.
Seeing the possibilities for growth in others at a systemic level, has helped us build our talent pipeline by identifying talent and giving individuals growth opportunities through new assignments, coaching, and accelerated development programs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard mid-level leaders in our MnSCU system express surprise at being identified by their presidents as having potential for senior leadership positions. Much like when my dad said to me, “before you know it, you’ll be going to college,” it sets them on a path that they hadn’t anticipated, but that they grow in to and often excel at.
Which of your core values can help you communicate your strategy?