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Learning from leading
by neil deo
03/21/05
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“It’s better to utilize the wheel than to reinvent it,” summarizes my leadership style. This value, plus humility and a burning desire to "do unto others as I would have them do unto me" helped me transition from leading children to leading adults. In a sense there is not a great deal of difference, unless one is a strategist.

I was effective in leading adults whenever I optimized existing structures. I prefer consensual leadership but move easily among participative, autocratic and “delegative” styles as situations necessitate.

I was less successful as Board member of an Alternative Health Institute in New England (1995-2000), but subsequent experiences at Oval College, South Africa, gives me the confidence that I am on the right track again.

During September 2002-November 2003 I led a South African college, comprising three schools: Business, Tourism, and Information Technology. I had much to learn; I am NOT a specialist in any of these fields.

At Oval, I supervised a dozen educators, a librarian, three security officers, a Food and Custodial Services Company - and persuaded them to help me serve our “clients” optimally. Active listening skills and one student’s attempted suicide alerted me that we needed counselors. I hired a female counselor immediately; the motivation for her salary followed and was approved. Before long, adults were also availing themselves of the service.

The demands of a multiracial faculty and students were apparently too much for my predecessor: he resigned at short notice. I had never been to Cape Town before 2002 but cautiously stepped into his large shoes. I had decided - based on reasons for not succeeding as well as I wanted to in New England - I would be visible, on duty and rarely off-campus.

Dedication to fairness and my modeling expected outcomes won all but one professor described as “recalcitrant” during the interview. I recorded his Department chair’s complaints and those of students and began a preliminary search for a Programmer. In fairness, Mr. T was asked to carry his load or leave. Many admired my concern for leaving a better campus for those who would follow. I allowed Department Heads to become co-partners in our mission. This was conveyed to stakeholders through parent body meetings, assemblies and newsletters. Attractive posters declaring “Average performance is never enough” were displayed.

Faculty meetings were regular but short. I shared the podium for staff-development workshops with Department Heads; workshops became relevant and entertaining. My open-door policy to all on campus created a positive environment. Leadership had transformed the focus from routine to rousing challenge. In the process, I re-discovered my confidence and comfortable style of leadership.

Leadership involves hard work, always. But the hard work can be pleasant and enjoyable if one sees oneself as part of the group that is being led in some direction. The journey and the destination become important to all. Process and procedure then, I think, are as important in leading as the qualities of the leader/s.

Some of these ideas and experiences apply to leading men, women and children to God. Only those familiar with the Scripture can decide if I am still on the right track. JOY'nJESUS!

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