Taking the next step

The path to wisdom does indeed begin with a single step. Where people go wrong is in ignoring all the other thousands of steps that come after it. They take the single step of deciding to become one with the universe and for some reason forget to take the next logical step – of living for 70 years on a mountain and a daily bowl of rice and yak-butter tea – that would give it any kind of meaning.
— Terry Pratchett

You never know where leadership lessons are going to come from. I’ve been listening to an audiobook on the way to work, and this passage popped out at me. I’ve never tasted yak-butter tea, but I like the point that achieving our visions requires taking the next step to do things differently.  The actions are what gives meaning and reality to the vision. Here are a couple of examples from higher education:

1)  In Charting the Future, Chancellor Rosenstone articulated a compelling vision in which MnSCU “provides an opportunity for all Minnesotans to create a better future for themselves, for their families, and for their communities.”  In order to accomplish this, the report lays out the goals we need to meet.  That was an important first step. To move forward, the Chancellor has created implementation teams to focus on the action steps that we’ll need to take in order to reach those goals.

2) The American Association of Community Colleges has been working for several years to identify challenges and opportunities in the 21st century.  Their initial report, Reclaiming the American Dream, laid out a vision of institutional transformation.  Just this month, they published a follow-up report, Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future: An Implementation Guide, that breaks the vision down into goals and action steps.

As leaders, we can learn from these examples. Once people understand our vision, we need to broadly involve them in setting goals and associated action steps.  A tried and true method is to create SMART goals, ones that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Results-oriented
  • Set in a Time Frame

The Charting the Future implementation teams will identify SMART goals to help make the vision a reality.  AACC did the same thing in the two years between the first report and the implementation plan.  For example, their first recommendation is to “increase completion rates by 50% by 2020.”  The implementation guide includes specific action steps, a measurable target, examples of accomplishments that have already been achieved, and the results that could occur as the goal is implemented.  In addition, it includes a timeline with actions and milestones.

yak butter tea free to useTo paraphrase Terry Pratchett, without a compelling vision, people will not see the need to live on a mountain or drink yak-butter tea. At the same time, a high-level vision with no goals or action steps has little meaning.

Dee Anne Bonebright




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