And in anticipation of the heat wave that is rapidly approaching my part of the world, I bring you a moment of universal cool…
Today may very well be the day when you choose to open your eyes to one new experience, thought, and/or moment in time, that you previously hesitated to see. Today you may break free from the ties that have bound your senses and enhance your life a gazillion-fold just by untying those figurative binds that have precluded you from reaching, daring, touching another soul in need. That’s what makes today so magical – anything can happen. And I hope you let it happen. And then I hope you tell me what your day brought you in return.
Yesterday the University Of Virginia Board Of Visitors reversed its decision and reinstated Teresa Sullivan as the school’s President. The Washington Post provided front page coverage about the closed-door political nonsense that fueled her immediate suspension and the passionate populous reaction that drove her reinstatement. The bottom line? Ms. Sullivan is a leader that faculty, students and alumni want to follow. The paper quotes one department chair – “You can move fast, or you can move incrementally. But it doesn’t matter unless people follow you…People follow her.” I have often said, one of the biggest failures in leadership is the hubris to think that you never have to change your position and turn around to see who’s there. Your perspective on your team must be as comprehensive as possible. You have to move around.
Ms. Sullivan’s misstep rested in her immersion in the U-Va culture without keeping on eye on the education politic – the Board. Her dismissal was orchestrated behind closed doors, by people who rued her patience and thoughtful approach to issues. They were looking for sweeping change – in what areas I don’t know. In my view, such dramatic action would have resulted in the Board creating a scapegoat as well – I don’t think she could have won regardless of her approach.
This is a bit of an attenuated way of writing about why every constituency associated with the University passionately advocated for her return. Here are but a few of the takeaways that I think are worthy of consideration…Rather than clean house upon arriving, she asked her team to give her eighteen months to prove herself and for them to prove themselves in return. She traveled solo from campus event to campus event, alumni fundraiser to alumni fundraiser, sporting event to sporting event. She involved herself in truly understanding the needs of the student, the faculty and the alumni – her informal and consistent communication was welcome. Sullivan’s efforts to maintain transparency included reports that weren’t filled with fluff, outreach that was personal and consistent and worked to establish a “relationship-centered presidency”. Of no less importance, she honored her commitments and had a ‘set of rules’ that were easy for her team to get behind (i.e., no surprises, don’t filter bad news, if the going gets tough make sure everyone is aware of what’s happening and finally “people and time are our greatest resources; don’t waste them”).
She established and maintained trust.
There is no doubt Sullivan has vision and strategy. Her professional experience is as impressive as her degrees. But none of this would really matter if she hadn’t fostered the trust and confidence in the people she served. Leaders serve. Such a concept suggests a different approach to people, strategy and vision than that which we typically consider in any for-profit environment. Her weakness was in not learning how to bob and weave, and one can’t minimize the need for that kind of facility. As Sullivan notes, “There are aspects of administration, they’re like a chess game…You’re looking forward three or four moves.” Apparently Theresa Sullivan was looking forward – and probably around her as well. She just wasn’t paying attention to the knife in her back. I think her approach should resonate with every leader; I think it probably won’t. I wish there were term limits on department heads and leaders in companies – and their tenure was predicated upon votes from more than a board and/or shareholders. I believe it would foster an urgent review of what it takes to really have unanimous support. For U-Va? Today is a good day.
People who don’t know how to hug. This is a pet peeve of mine. It’s more than a pet peeve, it can be a deal breaker.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the Hollywood ‘air’ kiss? Well there’s an ‘air’ hug too. I’m sure you’ve felt it – or more accurately, haven’t. Someone leans his/her upper body into yours, vaguely placing one arm within breathing distance of your back and perhaps patting your shoulder. I realize this isn’t very generous of me, but I jump to some pretty quick conclusions about people who don’t know how to hug – really hug (a caveat – I am culturally aware enough to know that in some places around the world, open affection like this is not common practice – you lucky people are exempted from my gross conclusion-jumping, which I know is wrong, but I do anyway – sometimes).
– I think you’re emotionally self-protective
– I think you’re not comfortable in your own skin
– I think I’m going to spend most of our time together trying to knock down your walls
– You’re missing out on one of the most renewing, reaffirming, loving gestures in the world
– You don’t like me
– You’re not into nurturing
I could go on, but I won’t. You know how much I dislike a lot of negative redundancy (positive redundancy however, is completely ok). There is nothing in the world that feels as wonderful as a really good, wrap-your-arms-around-someone-with-all-you’ve-got-hug. When the boys were little, we would often drive up to Westchester to see my parents. My dad was their primary male role model – and he filled this role with enthusiasm. He would come into the driveway as I was extricating the boys from their car seats, and they would start yelling for the “boa constrictor”. They’d all run into the house and dad would sit down at the first opportunity and the boys would stand in front of him as he slowly began to coil his arms around them, one at a time. “And now” he would say, “the mighty boa constrictor winds his way around his prey”. The boys would start to giggle and put their arms around his neck mimicking him “and I’m the boa constrictor…!”. Slowly they would squeeze each other until their laughter dissolved the embrace, dad kissing their baby cheeks, each boy giving himself completely over to these powerful hugs. The memory makes me cry – sadness yes, but I can feel their delight. That man knew how to hug. My friend Jo is an amazing hugger – she hugs so well that though we see each other rarely, I feel her hugs all the time. Lori writes with hugs in her words – I want to learn how to do that.
I want to feel a hug so I can carry it with me. Hugs send a message – a message of love and delight, of support and friendship, of spirit and life. Hugs make you laugh, they can prompt your tears. They help explain our humanity. They let us throw our arms wide open to the world and then hold onto something so we don’t fly away, carried by the sheer magnitude of it all. I hope you get a hug today – and I hope you give one. Hold on with both arms. Put your heart into it. Tell me you don’t walk away feeling that much more connected to something wonderful. Feels pretty terrific doesn’t it? I told you.