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Oct. 14, 2011- Qualities of a San Marcos Leader

October 14, 2011

Qualities of a Cal State San Marcos Leader

Recently, I was asked to share my thoughts on leadership with participants of the 2011 Cal State San Marcos Leadership Academy. I enjoy any moment I have to speak with the exceptional faculty, administrators, and staff at CSUSM, and I was delighted to explain my thoughts on what being a leader entails.

My leadership style was born over many years as a social worker and educator. Through observing others, collaborating on teams, and managing projects, I have learned three important lessons:

  1. Walk the talk. The difference between positional authority and real power comes from honesty and building relationships. It is easy to talk about a set of values and institutional principles, but it is far more difficult to examine whether you adhere to them on a daily operational basis.
  2. Be an active listener. Leaders have to stop talking in order to actively listen. We have to be able to provide opportunities to listen, and we must be willing to listen to things we may not want to hear.
  3. Focus on people and on doing good. When I think of powerful people, I think of people who recognize their own limitations, who appreciate the resources, strengths, and skills of others, who touch and affirm others. Work with people rather than expecting people to work for you, and don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know” and seeking advice.

Making and taking responsibility for your mistakes is a hallmark of a great leader. Being able to gracefully navigate failure makes you stronger and engenders the respect of your colleagues. So, too, does saying “thank you,” or “nice job.” I’m often surprised by how few managers actually do this. A little praise can go a long way toward boosting confidence and morale. You should see your choice to be a leader as a special opportunity to make a difference, not as an opportunity to take the spotlight.

I also think that it is imperative for leaders at Cal State San Marcos, to do the following:

  • Manage ambiguity by providing assurance and direction. Make the hard decisions, own them, and provide clarity and direction to those you’re leading. Teams are most effective when everyone is working toward a common goal.
  • Keep communication lines open and share information. In the absence of information, people fill in the gaps with rumors and misinformation. Don’t let rumors affect your work. Communication is essential even, or especially, if the message isn’t one you want to hear or deliver.
  • Take calculated risks. Be honest, be creative, and trust that we have created a climate that expects some mistakes (just not the same ones repeatedly!) Promote this in your own teams by providing the broader direction and boundaries for them to be creative within without feeling vulnerable.
  • Finally, act with “university first” as your guiding principle. This perspective has been central to CSUSM’s success, to the spirit of our campus, and to the collegiality that exists here.

What does university first mean? It means balancing being a strong and appropriate advocate for your division or unit while advocating for the university’s best interests. It means that working together to put the needs of our students first.

There is incredible leadership all around you at Cal State San Marcos. I encourage you to find it. Tap into it. Mine it. Ask yourself what qualities you admire and respect in your mentor and then model those characteristics. Most especially, ask questions

As I left the Leadership Academy meeting, I was reminded why this university is so special, so unique: it’s because of you and the rich diversity of backgrounds you bring you to your work. You make me proud to lead this institution, and I look forward to steering us toward an even brighter future alongside the most committed staff and faculty in higher education.