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An Unexpected Path: How I became Chancellor

| January 21, 2014

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading, “An Unexpected Path:  How I became Chancellor”, is an essay by Phyllis Wise, Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.  The essay was posted at

Chancellor Wise thinks of herself more as a leader by accident than by design.  After completing her doctorate at the University of Michigan, her goal was to understand the molecular biology and biochemistry of the brain and how the endocrine system influences the way the brain works.  After beginning a faculty career, Wise became department heard, dean, provost, executive vice president, and interim president before assuming her present position at Illinois.

While Wise does not believe there is a defined way to lead when you are in a formal leadership position, she does believe that leadership is a skill like any other and that it must be cultivated.  The essay notes five things she has learned on her journey:

1.           Get a mentor.  Find someone you admire and trust, and learn from them.

2.           See beyond yourself.  Leadership takes far different skills than those required for an individual contributor.  As a leader, it is far more about the success of your team and your finding satisfaction in their success.

3.           Have integrity.  Never, never compromise on ethics and integrity.  And, don’t copy the behaviors of people that you do not trust.

4.           Recognize your opportunities.  Opportunities emerge at every level and every situation.  Be alert and step up.

5.           Realize your path may change.  Wise’s path had many twists and turns, as did mine.  And, there is a high probability that yours will as well.  Evaluate every opportunity, step up when it’s right, and deliver the very best that you can in the position you are privileged to hold.

Wise’s learnings represent good advise for both leaders in formal leadership roles or those at other points on their journey.  Take some time this week to assess how you might apply these learnings.

Have a great week.  .  .  .   jim