Two events on Friday just passed stand out. I met with a student at lunch time to talk about an observation she’d made in a professional situation that concerned her. After talking about that and several other topics for a while, she said (paraphrasing), “If I am ever a faculty member someday, I’d like to be like you.” Later in the day, the students at the business school held their annual gala. I was able to go for the first time in several years, and this year I was lucky enough to be accompanied by my wife as we didn’t have other events in conflict. The students at the door when we arrived all greeted me and Sherry warmly. Many students we met commented on how nice it was to meet Sherry and how much they’d heard about her. Many students asked if we were enjoying ourselves. My wife commented afterwards that she felt like “an elusive celebrity” whom everyone wanted to meet.
Together, these events reflect the amazing feeling of support I have built and helped students build at the business school. I could think to myself, “Job well done. You’ve made it.”
But I worked with a coach for a while who would challenge that conclusion. I don’t know exactly what she would say, but it would be something to the effect of, “Have you? What makes you think so? And, even if you have, then what?”
With that question in mind, I challenged myself—even if it was a signal I had somehow "made it", then what? Should I feel satisfied and conclude, “Mission accomplished?”
First, my leadership is not about my success. My leadership is about the success and empowerment of others. What I had “achieved” is not greatness for myself but an empowerment of the students. Access to leadership for students. A sense of community for students. A sense of engagement for students. An outlook of leave no one out; I’d spoken with the student at Friday’s lunch about this topic as one of my main goals before seeing it in action on Friday night.
Second, the fact that my leadership has contributed to this is not an invitation to be done. Instead, it is an invitation to work even harder. An organization that accredits business schools focuses on impact and engagement. I’d managed to make an impact through my engagement with students. I was surprised by how much the impact had increased in just one academic year and might even refer to it as snowballing. While that is great, I also think it is like pushing a snowball uphill rather than down. Thus, I can’t afford to just let it roll and assume it will keep going. Instead, the impact will continue and grow only if I work even harder.
I look forward to rising to the challenge to make sure that the empowerment and community that has been built gets built even stronger and even bigger. My work is not done. My work is only beginning now that I have identified that building an impactful community through relentless engagement with and celebration of those around me makes a difference.