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Lessons from Dewitt

| May 14, 2013

by Jim Bruce

Dewitt Latimer was CIO at Montana State University until his untimely death earlier this month in a motorcycle accident. Prior to his becoming CIO at Montana State, he was Deputy CIO at the University of Notre Dame.

Among the many words of sympathy and celebration of his life that were written was today’s reading “Lessons from Dewitt.” This essay was written by Mike Chapple who was his friend, menthee, and colleague at Notre Dame. Mike is Senior Director, Enterprise Support Systems, and concurrently Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Notre Dame.

Dewitt’s lessons are great lessons and good reminders of the impact we can have on those around us. Pick one and work on it this week.

. . . . . jim

“Lessons from Dewitt”

I first met Dewitt nine years ago when I came to Notre Dame for a campus visit and series of interviews. I must admit that my first impression was something along the lines of “this guy is a little bit crazy.” Over the subsequent nine years, I learned that, yes, he was a little bit crazy, and also that he was brilliant, kind, and intensely devoted to his family, friends and the communities that he served. That combination of qualities enabled him to make tremendous contributions to IT and higher ed as a change catalyst, thought leader and innovator.

Dewitt was my friend and mentor and always shared lessons about life, leadership and IT generously. Over the past week, I’ve been touched by the many stories shared by his friends and colleagues. I’ve spent much of the last week reflecting on the many things that I learned from him and wanted to take the opportunity to share them with you all.

So, here’s my list of the top things that I learned from Dewitt:

1. Be bold. Take risks. The most exciting and valuable things happen when you try things that haven’t been done before. Being the first to do something is daunting and fraught with risk but can have a tremendous payoff. At the same time, when you take risks, you must be prepared to fail. Learn from those failures and move on to the next thing.

2. Don’t let non-critical details get in the way of your vision. The world is full of a million i’s that need dotting and t’s that need crossing. You’ll never get to every single one of them. Trying to do so will only stop you from making progress. The trick is figuring out which details are critical to realizing your vision and zeroing in on those.

3. Don’t put lipstick on a pig. If something is fundamentally broken, no amount of tweaking is going to make it better. You need to tear it apart and start over again.

4. Assemble a team of great people and expect great things of them. If you hire “A” players, they will figure out the right things to do and live up to your expectations, especially if you set the bar high enough that it seems slightly out of reach. Assemble a team of people with strengths and talents that differ from their own and know when to let them take the lead.

5. Push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Force yourself to step into the middle of uncomfortable situations, such as speaking opportunities, job searches and unusual experiences. You will grow as a result. Do the same thing for people around you.

6. Be kind. Everybody has a story. Take the time to listen to it and use it as the lens through which you interpret their words and actions. Be compassionate and empathetic.

7. Build networks. Share openly of your time, knowledge and talent with people from many different organizations and walks of life. Do this even if there is no foreseeable return. Good things will come as a result.

8. Mentor future leaders. Spend time with staff who show the potential for leadership. You will be serving your organization by helping to prepare the next generation of leadership and, at the same time, will experience tremendous personal and professional satisfaction.

9. Ask crazy questions and spark controversial conversations. Every once in a while, you’ll be onto something. At the very least, you’ll have a lot of stimulating conversations with interesting people who will expand your horizons.

10. Have fun. Work shouldn’t be boring or dull. It should be full of exciting opportunities to learn, grow and explore. Make an effort to engage your team in a way that makes work enjoyable.

11. Family comes first. Your professional career will probably only span about half of your life. Your family has been by your side since before you got your first job and they will be there long after you retire. Invest your time in them.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Dewitt had a powerful influence on many people and we will continue to miss him greatly.

Best regards,

Michael J. Chapple, Ph.D.
Senior Director, Enterprise Support Services
Concurrent Assistant Professor, Management