Image of the top of Beaumont Tower set against a blue sky.

In April, Provost Youatt highlighted an initiative to consider leadership on campus.  I am very pleased to be working with an enthusiastic group of individuals from across campus on this effort, and wanted to provide an update.  Conversations started last fall among senior administrators and members of some of our staffs in the Academic Advancement Network, Academic Human Resources, Human Resources, Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, and Residential and Hospitality Services.  The discussions, which were graciously facilitated by Tina Riley (School of Human Resources and Labor Relations), continued and intensified during the spring semester.

We identified a goal:  to create a framework to identify, develop, and motivate leaders who embrace MSU’s core values and are good stewards of the institution, including its most important resources, its people.  And, we considered a range of ideas related to the abilities and characteristics our leaders should exhibit.

During the month of June, we hosted eight conversations over meals at Brody to learn from the experiences of current administrators and supervisors.  We issued broad invitations to individuals at a wide range of levels across academic and support units to share their ideas on the most important skills, behaviors, and qualities for leaders.   We also asked attendees about the impacts when gaps exist, what was most helpful in their own development as leaders, what they wished they had known earlier, and what would be most helpful in providing key information, skills, and support.   In addition to generating critical information for the development of our framework on leadership, we wanted to begin to build bridges and trust by stimulating communication among leaders across units that rarely connect.

Each conversation produced some unique ideas, particularly related to types of training that might be offered.  However, the consistency on some points was remarkable and highlighted both the need for a university-wide framework and clear areas in which we should at least initially focus.   These common ideas include an imperative to increase the diversity of our leaders at many levels, the need for thoughtful succession planning, and the importance of outstanding mentoring to the development and success of leaders at all levels.  The conversations also consistently highlighted that leaders should operate with integrity, humility, and transparency; empower others and model the behaviors and attributes they expect to see; be held accountable for their actions and decisions; and communicate effectively and consistently, even when issues are difficult to discuss.  Attendees described a need to change some of the ways we evaluate, appreciate, and reward leadership.  Ideas included the high value of promoting a culture that allows for innovation and risk-taking without fear of failure, and importantly, that all members of the MSU community to consider leading in place – formal roles and titles are not necessary for positive impact.  Many of the conversations also focused on the need for individuals across all levels and units to develop an appreciation for the broader institution and MSU’s missions, and that structured opportunities should be provided for people in diverse roles and distant units to learn from each other.  Developing excellent leaders must be a focus of our efforts across the institution, a priority that deserves time and attention.

I want to thank all of you who participated in these conversations, for your willingness to take time out of your busy days for open conversations, in many cases with individuals you had not met before.  It is this type of generosity and enthusiasm for working together that makes me want to come to work every day, to be proud to be a Spartan, even in the most challenging of times.