Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Egypt, Young People, and Higher Education

Like most Americans, I watched the news of the Egyptian revolution with interest. I greeted it with almost a sense of disbelief. The last time I remember feeling so moved was when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. I was a student at Westminster at the time, and remember talking about the meaning and gravity of the act with my professors and classmates.

As an adult, I viewed the Egyptian revolution with the same awe and interest, but I didn't have the outlet of my classes and professors available for discussion. Instead, I turned to passively watching the news, reading blogs and trying to absorb as much information as I could. However, I continue to feel as though I'm missing something. There is simply no substitute for intellectually stimulating conversation in an academic setting.

I learned through reading blogs that the revolution was led by young people, organized and promoted on social media, and had a lot to do with unemployment levels among the highly educated. As a person who regularly works with recent graduates, many of whom are entering the work force during a recession, these events make me worry even more about their future. How can we, as Westminster alumni, create a stronger alumni network - one that doesn't leave our recent graduates worrying about the future and feeling ostracized and neglected by those who have come before them?

If there were ever a time to be involved in alumni organizations, I believe that it is now. Opening up your own networks, providing job counseling and expertise, mentoring a student or even taking them to lunch one time is an immensely important way to ensure the vitality of our future. It is more important than ever to connect with one another. In the alumni program, we are looking for your ideas, your willingness to commit to building relationships with each other, your desire to create that alumni network. It is through the interconnectedness that we will maintain our strength! Are you willing to help?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Leadership: Can Inspiration and Manipulation Play Well Together?

I was recently asked to take one of those personality tests at the office. You know the kind – read a set of statements and choose the one that fits you best. At the end of the test you will find out what kind of person you are. This particular test was about communication style. It divides communication types into dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. I was the last person on my “team” to take the test, and everyone was making bets on my results. Just about everyone was certain that I would be labeled a “D” – for dominance. That certainly isn’t surprising, as I would assume the same thing. After all, at the end of my service as Alumni Board Chair, alumnus Gene Barton presented me with a gift from the entire alumni board: a sledgehammer. Hmmmm…….

Not surprisingly, I scored a high “D” on the test. However, my scores were almost completely equal in the D (dominance) and I (influence) category. Interesting. Taken together, at least according to this survey, my communication type was categorized as “inspirational”.

Well, I really liked that description. Inspirational just sounds nicer than dominance. Imagine my discomfort when reading the description of the inspirational “type” in the profile description and learning that it really wasn’t what I had expected. While words like

·        charming
·        clear
·        results
·        persuasive

were listed, other words like

·        manipulating
·        predetermined end
·        controls environment

were equally present.

 I laughed it off but found myself wondering – is this really what I think of myself? And how do manipulation and inspiration really fit together?

According to Merriam-Webster, inspiration means “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions” and “the act of influencing or suggesting opinions.” I know that I appreciate a leader who inspires. Don’t we all? We want to feel as though our efforts have greater meaning, and an inspirational leader can tap into our emotions and intellect so that we feel empowered and even compelled to act.

I was upset that the word “manipulating” was in my descriptor, but upon further thought, I’ll take that back  We generally think of that word with a derogatory meaning – “to control or to use to one’s own advantage by unfair means”. But I learned that it is also defined as “to manage or utilize skillfully”. Wait a minute. That’s not such a bad descriptor. Don’t we want our leaders to manage our resources skillfully? Don’t we want our leaders to utilize the skill sets of their team members to their best efforts? I set forth that the word manipulate may have gotten a bad rap. Manipulating, particularly in a leader with vision and ethics, can be incredibly important to an organization.

Taken together in the best senses of the words, manipulating and inspirational leaders may actually be those who have both the charm and the skill to get their organizations to the next level. I think that’s what we’re all craving in our leaders right now: those with the vision to inspire us to great work, and those with the skill to manage our human and other resources to actually get that great work done.

Do you know any leaders with these qualifications? Who inspires you???