Friday, October 1, 2010

Leadership 101: Building Trust and Relationships

(College Planning and Management, October 2010 - by Scott D. Miller and Marylouise Fennell)

Editor’s Note: Fifth in a series of six focusing on “Leadership 101,” issues of special interest to college presidents and trustees.

Nothing is more essential to a presidency, especially in the first 90 days, than building trust, loyalty and enduring relationships.  In their zeal to demonstrate success and momentum, new CEO’s too often allow relationships to take a back seat to tasks.  This is a potentially lethal mistake because, as globally recognized expert on leadership Michael Maccoby, author of The Leaders We Need: and What Makes Us Follow, “Loyalty creates loyalty, and it is essential for a leader to have a loyal team.”

Leaders must be loyal to the people who work under them, adds Yash Gupta, dean of Johns Hopkins’s Carey Business School.
One of our longest-serving trustees, a nationally recognized leader in his industry, recently noted that in his 50-year career, “in those (divisions of) my organization where performance exceeded my expectations, it was always because of the personnel.

“I’ve learned to both hold (employees) accountable and to hold them in utmost respect,” he pointed out. 

In his new book, The First 90 Days, author Michael Watkins, emphasizes building a road map by negotiating success, achieving alignment, building your team and creating coalitions.

"The right advice and counsel network is an indispensable resource,” he says.
Here are some other things that we’ve learned are critical to effective team-building in young presidencies:

·         Listen and learn

Cultivate active listening skills – listening for meaning, observing body language, noting what is left unsaid-- are among the most crucial, and under-utilized, leadership skills.  A common thread among the countless tributes to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, is that he listened to everyone, remembered and followed up on small details: birthdays, anniversaries and other significant milestones.  One long-time dean and professor who mentored dozens of students met with a prominent alumnus nearly 30 years after he had retired. The former recalled, “He must have asked questions for at least the first 30 minutes!”

·         Be visible

Don’t “hole up” in your office. Appear energetic, optimistic, futuristic, dedicated and visionary. In the first 90 days, we suggest: making contact with all of your main constituent groups, in person if possible; begin calling and visiting your top 50 donor prospect list; and visiting editorial boards of area newspapers. Eat in the cafeteria, walk the campus and attend campus events (even if on a “fly by” basis.)  Presidents sometimes mistakenly assume that their presence at a small campus athletic event, for example, won’t be missed; these occasions are very meaningful for students, families and young alumni.

·         Help everyone to win

Ask about sick children of staff; help a young faculty member. These small kindnesses will pay huge dividends later. Foster and cultivate relationships by twitter, e-mail, phone and hand-written personal notes. 

Continually network; we find that about two dozen key relationships keep giving back to us in support, counsel, affirmation and friendship.

·         Small gestures count

Finally, never underestimate the power of a small, symbolic gesture to forge ongoing loyalty.  “Small gestures can often mean more than sweeping ones,” notes Gary E. McCullough, president and chief executive of the Career Education Corporation. McCullough recounts the “Lesson of the 38 Candy Bars” from his former career as a U.S. Army platoon leader at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina:  “The commanding general asked a vehicle driver what he could do to improve conditions for him in the field….’Sir, I sure could use a Snickers bar,’ was the reply. A couple of days later, a box showed up for the private, filled with 38 Snickers bars, the number of soldiers in the platoon.  From that day onward, we would’ve followed that general anywhere!”

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Dr. Scott D. Miller is President of the College and M.M. Cochran Professor of Leadership Studies at Bethany College in West Virginia.  Now in his third college presidency, he has served as a CEO for nearly 20 years.

Dr. Marylouise Fennell, RSM, a former president of Carlow University in Pittsburgh, PA, is senior counsel for the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and principal of Marylouise Fennel, Higher Education Services.