Think About It: Important Thoughts on Leadership

Dr. Don Meyer, PhD, is the President of Valley Forge Christian College

“Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.”

Tom Peters

Every six months, our Senior Executive Team at VFCC reads a book which we discuss at an administrative retreat. The last book we digested was “The Leadership Engine” (1997) by Noel M. Tichy (with Eli Cohan). Although I read it for the first time several years ago, this excellent leadership resource is always worth another look.

Tichy says, “Leaders are the people who decide what needs to be done and the ones who make things happen.” He goes on to say that “the world is moving too quickly for bureaucratic caretakers. It is the leaders who have ideas, values, energy and edge. Without leaders, organizations are stagnate.”

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I remember reading these insights by Tichy near the beginning of his book years ago and I knew immediately I was going to enjoy the book. Re-reading them years later gave me that same impression.

Here are some of the highlights which stood out to my colleagues and me. First, leaders must have a teachable point of view. Great leaders must be great learners but great leaders must also be great teachers. Tichy even says, “If you aren’t teaching, you aren’t leading.”

Eighteen years ago, when Evie and I were invited to come to VFCC, I realized I would probably need to set aside my classroom responsibilities indefinitely. For three years I was a full-time professor and for 18 years I continued to teach at least one class per semester at the college where I served in Minnesota.

My friend, Jim Fereirra, helped me immeasurably when he wisely said, “Even if you are not in a classroom, leaders are always teachers.” And Jim was right. All leaders must learn and all leaders can and must teach!

Secondly, every leader should learn from his/her own leadership story. Tichy says that the winning leaders he profiled in the book lead through stories. He speaks of “who I am” stories. I wish I could sit with you and ask you to tell me a story or two which helped shape your life into the person you are today.

If you were to ask me, I would probably begin with these words, “My father died when I was a junior in high school.” That one event marked the reshaping of my entire life. And I often refer to it.

Or, I would say, “On August 5, 1967 I married Evelyn E. Morneau.” Nothing in my life has ever been the same since. Her influence on me has been incalculable.

Tichy also speaks of “who we are” stories. Every organization has those who tell and retell the stories of the past which formed its very essence. The “who we are” story of VFCC which I would tell would go like this. “During my first week on campus, I met with a 1955 alumnus, Don Storms, who asked me, ‘How big are your dreams for this school?’ to which I replied, ‘How large can they be; they can be as great as what God has in store.’ And within a year Don and Ruth Storms made a $3 million commitment for a library.”

Then there are also “future stories” which leaders tell to help create a more preferable future.

Finally, the third insight from Tichy’s book is his affirmation that everything starts with ideas. He says, “Leaders are never satisfied with their ideas; they are constantly looking for the next big one.” He even says, “Think the unthinkable,” and he warns against the “arrogance of ignorance.”

It is also in this book that Tichy says, “Leaders develop leaders.” Every organization should be “leader-driven” and every leader should be duplicating leadership at every level of organizational life.

There is no silver bullet to make this happen. As Stephen King said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA

Responses can be emailed to president@vfcc.edu

Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer

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