Occupation: Dean, School of Education, Leadership Studies, and Counseling at Lynchburg College
Hometown: Piedmont, SC
What does your day-to-day look like?
In my current role as Dean, my day is focused around working with a great group of faculty members who are interested in both their disciplines and our students. Some of the work is managerial—schedules, forms, meetings, paperwork, accreditation issues, state and federal reports, etc. While those are important to the structure of the program, it is important to keep in mind that you manage things so that you can lead. Management is not leadership. So, I like to spend part of each day focusing on aspects of leadership that can move our programs forward.
What led you to where you are now?
I spent more than 30 GREAT years with Lynchburg City Schools as a teacher, coach, middle school principal, high school principal and assistant superintendent. I retired in 2003 for the opportunity to chair the educational leadership program at Lynchburg College.
What were the early days in your position like?
When I came to Lynchburg College, there were six students in the educational leadership program. Dr. Ken Garren, the President of Lynchburg College, had recently appointed Dr. Ed Polloway as Dean of the Graduate Program and given him the task of growing the graduate programs at LC. I learned much from Dr. Polloway, who still remains one of the three most influential leaders in my life. The focus during the early years was growing the program and working with area superintendents to develop a sustainable cohort program for future school administrators.
What have you learned over the years?
The more I research and study leadership, I realize how much more there is to know. I have learned that I need to be constantly growing, learning and expanding my knowledge and skills. I have learned that you are either growing, or you’re dying on a daily basis.
What excites you the most about the work that you do?
I am excited about the growth of our leadership studies program. Over the past 13 years, our K12 leadership program has grown significantly. Over that 13 year period, we have over 110 graduates who are now principals, assistant principals or central office administrators. Considering there were only six in the entire program in 2003, this is really exciting. In addition, we have expanded our leadership studies program by adding a master’s degree in higher education administration. More than 40 of those graduates are in positions of leadership in higher education. In 2015, we added two new master’s degrees in leadership studies: Criminal Justice Leadership and Non-Profit Leadership. Finally, several years ago, we added a doctoral program in Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies. The EdD is cohort driven, and we will hood our second cohort this year. Our third cohort is completing their first year of course work. Our fourth cohort will begin in May of 2017.
Is there anything you would change in retrospect?
Professionally, there is really nothing I would do differently. I have always believed that leaders should be focused on the future, not driven by the past. Learn from your past, learn from your failures and stay focused on your vision and your guiding values.
What are some trends in leadership development?
Among the trends is the need to develop faculty and staff in an individual manner. One size does not fit all, so one professional development activity does not meet the needs of all faculty. There is also a trend to move toward
more participatory leadership and looking for ways to expand the capacity of others to lead. Finally, there is a trend in branding or re-branding schools and/or school divisions.
If you could distill the essence of leadership, what would it be?
From my perspective, the essence of leadership includes several components. Leaders have to want to lead and must have a passion and curiosity for what they do. They must foster a culture of both achievement and accountability while looking to the future. They have to develop and grow. In essence, you know yourself and grow yourself. They have to inspire others. They understand the change process. They focus on vision, intentionality and non-negotiables. Finally, they cultivate followers.
Why is leadership so critical to the success of an organization?
Creating a vision around a set of underlying beliefs that drive what you do is critical. It is the leader who must be the champion for that vision. The leader must continuously support and articulate the vision. It is also important for the leader to understand that change is a process, so the leader who understands and leads the process will be much more successful.
What would you recommend for someone looking to improve his or her leadership ability?
Study, read, watch and listen. Always be a student of leadership.
Challenge yourself by reading the research and by reading books on leadership. Watch the leaders around you to see how they handle various situations and ask yourself if you would have handled the situation the same way. Finally, listen. Spend some time “watching people listen.” What you normally find is that people do not listen and that impedes their ability to lead. Look for opportunities to become an empathic listener.
What type of leader are you?
In my view, leadership skills are generic. Leaders in business, law, medicine and education utilize the same skill set. What is different is the context, so the skills may be implemented in different ways. I would define myself as a situational leader. I have tried to be intentional about using a variety of leadership styles based on the person I am working with or the situation.
What are some challenges you’ve faced over the years, and how did you overcome them?
One of the challenges is that there is no one motivational strategy that works for all employees.
A second challenge is keeping employees focused on the vision and underlying beliefs of the organization. The third is helping those around you to understand there are no simple solutions to complex problems. If there were simple solutions, someone would have figured them out by now.
What are some ideals or strategies that you prioritize?
All leaders have a set of values that drive what they do. Whether those are written or in their head, these values define our leadership. While they may change over time, I currently have 12, which I refer to as The Essential 12.
Among those 12 are the following: Educators must be instructional leaders. Effort and persistence lead to increased learning. Vision, non-negotiables and intentionality create a trifecta for success. Motivation matters—intrinsic motivation matters more. Feedback must simulate action.
What do you appreciate about Lynchburg’s business environment?
I appreciate the diversity of businesses, and I think a diverse economy is a stronger economy. I appreciate the support that business and industry have provided over the years to school divisions in the region.
What do you envision for Lynchburg?
It is my vision that Lynchburg would continue to grow and expand business opportunities and grow our economy. Doing so means developing employees that have the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for the jobs of the future. One of the issues that educators address is that our responsibility is to prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist using technologies that have not yet been invented.
What does this region need to do in order to attract and build a skilled workforce?
There are no “sound-bite” simple solutions to complex problems. Building a skilled workforce is directly connected to building a strong K12 system of education. Doing so requires support and commitment from many people, organizations and businesses. Businesses could support a Grow Your Own Initiative that would attract high school seniors to the teaching profession and encourage them to come back to their localities to teach. Businesses need to advocate for changes in public school accountability with the General Assembly and Congress. Assessing both schools and students with a paper-pencil test is a flawed process. While paper-pencil multiple choice tests can be ONE way of assessment, it should not be the only way. Businesses need to advocate for an education system that promotes and assesses 21st century skills including the following: content knowledge in core disciplines, creativity and innovation, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, global awareness, economic and financial literacy, civic literacy, health literacy, environmental literacy, information literacy, cross-cultural skills, self-initiative, and leadership.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I ever got was from my father: always do more than you are paid for.
What one piece of advice would you share with others?
Know yourself, be yourself and develop yourself. You can be placed in a leadership position but that does not make you a leader. You have to earn the right to lead. Cultivate your passion and your curiosity: they will serve you well.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
If you are out front and turn around, and there is no one behind you, then you are hiking, not leading!