SNHU Leaders on Culture, Leadership and Learning From Failure
Associate Dean Will Brooke-DeBock interviewed Southern New Hampshire University leaders recently about leadership. University President Dr. Paul LeBlanc, Chief Operating Officer Amelia Manning, former Chief Academic Officer Dr. Gregory Fowler and Academic Resources and Communication Vice President Amy Stevens talked about looking for leaders, organizational culture, learning from failure, what they would tell students and more. Here are some of their thoughts, edited for space and clarity
On Hiring Leaders
Dr. Paul LeBlanc: I think when hiring for key leadership roles, part of what I'm looking for is sheer emotional intelligence and empathy. Leaders, by the very nature of their jobs, are working with lots of people. They have to understand at a more humane level, not just a competency level, what drives people and motivates people, and how to bring them together.
Secondly would be communications. I think leaders, as we move up through organizations, are increasingly called upon to be the chief communicators of their units or their areas. People respond, obviously, to data and to statistics. But what moves people are actually narratives and stories.
And then finally, I think the thing you know you can't teach - sheer work ethic. There are tons of talented people out there who have failed, because they don't bring to it the work ethic, that kind of grit and determination. And the most successful people I know put in enormous amounts of effort and time. I say that with the caveat of people also need to be careful of taking care of everything else in their life, right? But work ethic is a critical piece.
Amelia Manning: First and foremost for me is culture - their cultural fit with the organization. And I'd almost put that as one, two and three, by the way. Here in SNHU Online, for us, it's really about: Do you have the ability to work effectively across the organization to get things done? Are you really aligned with our mission?
So if you believe that student success is an idea that is worth putting all of your energy and effort and passion into, this is a great place for you. If you think that's only applicable to a certain group of our students, probably not.
Amy Stevens: I'm looking for someone who is probably going to be a little humble. We are an organization filled with rock stars, but we've figured out how to play together.
I'm looking to see you're hungry. I'm looking to see someone who is willing to roll up their sleeves, dig in and get the work done.
And then the last thing is ... that you are able to understand the people you're talking to and regulate yourself to be able to bring out the best in them.
Dr. Gregory Fowler: I think that the vast majority of issues that you run into with people tends to be lack of communication skills. So that's always going to be number one. How well do they deal with situations and work their way through talking to other people who may see the world a little differently?
Problem-solving abilities is probably number two, not simply someone who can identify a problem. I'm not interested so much in people who simply recognize a problem, but people who can ... demonstrate a solution to it.
Advice for Students
LeBlanc: If I were giving a new student one piece of advice, it would be connect. Connect, connect, connect. I think that especially as an adult learner who's busy and juggling a lot of things, your learning time can feel very isolated. And in reality, you have a lot of people who are here to help you, to support you.
And we know peer-to-peer learning and support are critical. It makes you feel better. You'll be more successful. You'll help each other.
It means connecting to all of our support services. People are not in this alone. We're a whole organization built to help people get across the finish line.
Stevens: Two things, and they're really the kind of things you could needlepoint on a pillow. The first is, someone said to me: Always bring your best self. And I say that to my son every morning when he leaves the house. Even on your worst day, you're responsible for bringing your best self to whatever that situation is. I have to be present and make sure that I'm positive for the people I'm around.
The second is that calm waters don't make for strong sailors. And I don't want to be a weak sailor. So when I enter stressful, turbulent times, I take a deep breath and I lean into the storm, as opposed to hiding from it, because each one of those stressful periods, each one of those storms, actually makes me stronger. And it makes the next one seem not as difficult. And I have the strategies, and I know that this too will pass. But it really is the grounding mantra for me to be able to get through whatever the turbulence is that's causing chaos.
Manning: I think sometimes people come into this experience and they think that it should be easy. And when they hit that first roadblock, they're like, "See? Can't do it." And in reality, that's part of the process.
You're not going to get it right every time. You will stumble. You will run into obstacles. It's what you do to help move yourself past those things, what resources you draw upon, that really work. And so don't be afraid to reach out for help, to raise your hand and say that you need additional support.
You will find these moments where you have the ability to move past those types of challenges. And you will.
On Success and Failure
Fowler: I think most leaders will tell you that it's in some ways harder to learn from your successes than from your failures, because you make the assumption that you did something right, and that's not always going to be true. In fact, a lot of people, when they succeed at things, don't have a tendency to take the critical approach that they need to, to keep moving forward. So I think the first thing that you've got to be able to do is be honest with yourself. You're not always going to get everything right.
Stevens: I need to have a couple of gutter balls every once in a while. Hopefully not too many, but enough to know that I'm pushing myself. And I really look at those failures as opportunities where I tried something new or I didn't learn a lesson.
Manning: I always like to identify what I would consider to be short-term and then longer-term goals. And the short-term goals are really focused on, what are those skills and abilities that I feel like I need to be better at in order to get to that longer-term vision of where I want to be?
The longer term - I think that's where you've got to be flexible because you will have opportunities that come left, right and center. And you've got to be willing to say, "That's not what I thought I was going to be. But I'm going to go there, because that's interesting," and to take that risk. You'll learn from it, even if it ends up being not the right move.
Stevens: I have never had long-term goals. I have ridden the wave of my short-term goals to their absolute capacity. And by the time I've gotten to the end of that, the whole world has shifted and new opportunities have appeared. But I've been able to use my short-term goals to leverage what I know I love to do and to find opportunities where I get to play. And that has kept me vibrant in my career.
A Good Day
Fowler: I think a good day is having a, first of all, what a sense of progress really is. Because sometimes progress isn't the quantum leap to the next thing. Sometimes the progress really is the team needed to take a moment to pause and reflect and really situate themselves for what's coming next.
One of the things that I try to focus on is, when I look back over the day, have I treated people the way I wanted to be treated? Because this is not simply about the strategy and the vision of the company. For most of us, this is a personal journey, and being able to say, "Am I progressing as a person and am I being the person that I wanted to be?"
Stevens: I've got a really lovely, beautiful, New Hampshire, bucolic view on the way home. And if I am replaying scenarios where it didn't go right, if I'm in the past, it wasn't a good day. If I'm in the future, if I'm problem-solving, if I'm excited about something, if I'm dreaming about something from a connection that I may have had at one point in the day and I'm trying to figure out how to maximize that, that's a great day. That's a day where I'm thinking about the fact that I'm constantly trying to move myself and my team forward, and I'm looking for opportunities. I'm looking to see where we could have our next win trying to help students be more successful.
And if I'm replaying days where I'm having difficult conversations or I'm replaying days where I filled out the form wrong or I didn't get the pickle on my lunch, those are days where I'm like, OK, I get to start again tomorrow. I get to begin again.
Manning: One of the things that I think is critical to my role is really helping the organization have clarity around where we are, why we're here, and what we are doing, in terms of moving forward. So when I've had my best days, that's really how I'm measuring it.
And when I see our vision and our mission coming to life from the people that work with our students every day, that's the stuff that makes me go, "Yep. We got this."
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