Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude. – Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
So, I spent the week in the first half of an executive leadership institute. (Yes, I realize I should not start with “So,” but, well, so what? If you have read any earlier entries, you will realize I am not exactly rigidly bound by convention.) I have been through a number of leadership exercises, but this is my first at the executive level. First, I will say that it was distinctly non-military in its approach and thus quite different from my earliest experiences.
I have a problem in that I am cynical, sarcastic, and curmudgeonly in a world that does not value these qualities nearly as highly as I do. This also causes me to not look forward to being the target of well-meaning people wishing to help me fit better into their worldview, particularly when I feel that I have a lot to do and a sense of lacking productivity at a given moment is not helpful for my sense of well-being. Despite this, I made the best of the week. Even going so far as tossing my cell phone under the table and retrieving it only during breaks. Further, I sacrificed evenings of meaningful productivity to stay in the moment, with a sense of pausing my life.
It was a good week. The individual sessions were helpful, even when some of the information was not new to me, but thinking through things in a different model is almost always helpful. Honestly, I could probably spend most of a week practicing the art of handling tough interviews. A useful skill and fun. It is always useful to practice public speaking as well. Mostly though, I spent the week in reflection about purposes, drive, vision, and shortcomings.
I’m looking forward to week two next month.
I’ve thought about leadership a lot over the last decades. I kind of really hate being able to say “decades” in this context, but it is true. It has been over 32 years since I joined the Army, and just about two years more since getting involved in ROTC and obtaining a full scholarship (that I tossed away when I dropped out and enlisted). One of the first things I have noticed, is that in higher ed, leadership seems to be little more than doing something first. That may seem unfair, but when I see things like the “adjustments” made by USED this week (I wrote about those here), I wonder about moral/ethical leadership in higher education. It wasn’t that long ago one could count on USED to be boringly ethical and consistent. Apparently not so much now.
One of the implicit lessons this week, and I mean it was so implicit that perhaps it only reflects my imagination or my own deep-hidden demons, is that the appearance of impropriety is every bit as bad as real impropriety for a public agency. When I reflect upon the sample scenarios we used for the “gotcha” interviews and the examples of social network messages that went badly wrong, it seems clear that there is very little difference between impropriety and the mere of appearance of such in terms of the damage that can be done to a public organization, its reputation, and the people involved. With large enough entities, this can create a ripple effect of across the industry. Higher education has enough problems, and the sub-industry of higher ed data is now just a little weaker.
I hate that.
So, I will pause a bit. Reflect some more. Move on to what I can affect. More importantly, I will keep to my principles and values and let those drive the work I do.
Like the leopard though, there is no explanation. We’ll see.