I have had the great joy of spending the past two weeks in working with seasoned and young scholars, researchers, faculty and administrators, exploring various topics related to the new and emerging challenges associated with leading in a rapidly changing higher education environment. Last week was spent with the ARL Leadership Fellows Program hosted by the University of Toronto, and this week the University of Minnesota’s Leadership Institute for Early Career Librarians from Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Groups. The experiences were unique in many ways, but there were also similarities. A few included:
1. Vision is the most daunting of topics–and the most alluring. In Toronto, we spent time with researchers who stretched our imaginations to think about the increasingly blurred lines between the data and physical objects, like turning an electronic file of a gun into an actual working gun with the help of a 3-D printer. It raised a few eyebrows when we were talking about guns, but then the conversation shifted to creating prosthetic limbs for children in Africa. Wow… In Minnesota, the concept of vision was explored in the context of one’s intentional leadership path. We talked about how difficult it is to form a clear and highly-anchored vision, and more importantly, the case for looking holistically at one’s life and desires to fuel its culmination. Richard Boyatzis’ graphic helped us frame our thinking.
2. On each campus, there are physical and symbolic contemplative paths–the Philosopher’s Walk at Toronto and Scholars Walk at Minnesota. These paths beautifully invoke the journey to wisdom that is also the course for leaders. In our leadership programs we build in reflective time, time for wrestle with concepts, try on new ideas for size, make connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information, and draw conclusions.
3. Great leaders look for innovation where it lives–at the nexus. It is no longer relevant to put ideas, experience, industries and relationships into small boxes. Creative solutions to today and tomorrow’s problems require deep knowledge within a field and active inquiry into disciplines that may not even seem related to the problem we are trying to solve. Next generation leaders are innately curious. They are constantly gathering data, playing with ideas, identifying patterns, and seeking to understand the potential breakthrough opportunities that could come from new forms of experimentation and collaboration.
4. Community is key. Globalization has created innumerable access points to leadership opportunities. Leadership is not limited to those who fill formal positions of authority. Young people, new research findings, interdisciplinarity, cross-industry collaboration and social media, to name a few, have significantly challenged our traditional, closed, silo-specific approaches to work and information sharing. A new generation of leaders, and leadership practices, are emerging and populating our organizations. They are leading from everywhere. They are facilitating the confluence of self, organizational and societal issues.
Programs like the two I have contributed to over the past weeks are examples of the community-building grounds for these new leaders. Readers, I urge you to watch out for them or, better yet, join us–we plan to change the world. Colleagues and leaders who with whom I’ve spent the past two weeks, thank you, in advance.