Thoughts on Leadership – Part I

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Feb 14, 2015

“A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.”
M. D. Arnold

Every now and then I like to bring up the subject of leadership in this column. Before I begin I want you to know that I am a fellow leadership-discoverer. I am definitely not an expert, but rather a simple farm boy who has picked up some things along the way. 

Also, I can’t separate my faith from my leadership journey. Don’t worry, I am not going to share a sermon; but you will sense my faith journey sprinkled into my leadership thoughts. Without faith my thoughts on leadership would be without integrity.

Warren Bennis said, “Leadership is the capacity to transform vision into reality.” As a leader, how can I “transform vision into reality?” 

1. Questions: One of the most important marks of leadership is the question mark. Socrates was known for his use of questions to each of his students, and leaders today would do well to master the Socratic method. Even the Bible, with more than 2,500 questions, uses this methodology. The parable of the good Samaritan began with the simple question “Who is my neighbor?”

For over 18 years I have been asking myself the question, “What does it mean to be president here at the University of Valley Forge?” The university keeps changing. I keep changing. I must keep asking.

Reggie McNeal warned, “If I were an enemy of a movement, I would get its leaders obsessed with the wrong questions.”

2. Depth: Go deep before going wide. Years ago, Rev. David Seamands was interviewed and asked if he ever aspired to climb the denominational ladder in the United Methodist Church. He quickly replied, “No” and then told this story.

He and his family were missionaries in the Philippines during the monsoon season when it had rained for 56 straight days. As he pondered what he was doing there, he sensed God saying to him, “David, if I want you here for the rest of your life that’s not for you to decide. You must take care of the depth of your life; I (God) will take care of the breadth.”

I love that story. Every leader must focus on going deep before going wide. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is not the length of life, but the depth of life.”

3. Adversity: The furnace is normal in the making of pottery. Storms are inevitable. These defining moments change us forever.

Some years ago when we were facing a particular challenge here at the university, my wife, Evie, said, “We are not just good time people; we are also tough-time people.” I wrote those words on a small card, dated it and placed it on the corner of my desk. And though it has become quite faded with time, the message is still true.

C. S. Lewis said, “God gets his greatest soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.”

4. Relationship: We really do need each other. Some people walk into a room and say, “Here I am.” Others walk into a room and say, “There you are.” Leaders follow leaders and leaders lead followers. We really do need each other.

Lee Iaccoca said, “If you can’t get along with people it is the kiss of death.” For us to make a maximum leadership impact on our community, our mantra must not be “I am Phoenixville” but “We are Phoenixville.” We are better together.

5. Growth: Never stop yearning to learn. Unfortunately, some people peak out when they graduate from high school or university. They live their first year after graduation over and over and over, and when you see them years later they are at about the same place as when they graduated.

Morton Kelsey speaks of “the questing spirit” and Keith Miller wrote about the “becomers.” Both Kelsey and Miller understand what Stephen Covey knew when he wrote, “You can’t cram on the farm.”

6. Faith: Eyes that look are common; eyes that see are rare. Leaders understand that people and organizations that make a difference must have values beyond making money. There must be more than just the economic bottom line. In his well-known book “Managing the Non-Profit Organization,” Peter Drucker said, “In a non-profit organization, people don’t only work for a living; they work for a cause.”

At the top of my own personal mission statement are these words from the Old Testament book of Joshua 22:3, “You have completed the mission the Lord your God gave you.” As a leader, that is my priority goal.

Next week we will consider six more thoughts on leadership.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of  
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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