Skip to main content

The Next Leaders

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Sean McDonald of MOR Associates with contributions from Michael G. Cato, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Bowdoin College. They may be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].]

Where will the next leaders come from?

We can’t miss the headlines today and many conversations about the shifting landscape of talent, “The Great Resignation,” “The Great Retirement,” “The Great Reset.” Though hard to manage for many organizations, the silver lining is we are paying more attention to things that we knew were important all along, for our employees and ourselves; balance, well-being, joy, engagement.

It only took the assistance of a global pandemic and demographic shifts to awaken this increased awareness and elevated actions. As the famous quote goes: “necessity is the mother of invention”. Clearly, that is what it takes sometimes to bring about evolution. But other times it can be just a single person starting a new dialogue or a small group of people aligned on purpose to get the ball rolling on needed evolution. As another famous quote goes: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Where else then are there shifts we already know need to evolve, but perhaps seem too daunting for any one of us to take on, or feels too far out of our control? Maybe these needed evolutions are clear, maybe they are not, but either way… What can we do?

Let’s go back to the opening question, and pull a few lessons from a small group of people who were asking this question, about where the next leaders would come from, and in further depth around the disproportionate historical exclusion of those who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) in higher education senior IT leadership roles.

The Next Leaders Fellowship is a new program that has just accepted its first 12 participants and will launch this spring. It arose from a small group of people and organizations with a shared commitment to action on diversity, equity, and inclusion to help talented information and technology professionals from BIPOC and other historically excluded backgrounds in higher education achieve senior leadership roles.

MOR witnessed the formation of this effort and played a role in supporting its rollout.  Now at its launch we reflect back and pull lessons we can all take forward.  These lessons suggest how we might take on challenges that seem too daunting to take on alone. We hope the items below are ones you can reflect and act on.

  1. Awareness and Education. For some, no additional awareness or education is needed around issues that need to evolve in the world around us. For others, our life circumstances or blind spots might not have exposed us to certain things, or their depth. I was reminded by my friend and colleague Shawn Harris that it is not the job of others to educate us about what is going on in the world. We need to own that. We know larger challenges and opportunities loom, we own learning more.  What is calling your name?
  2. You Are Not Alone. As you are exploring these challenges and opportunities, the reflective process will benefit from perspective and additional inputs. Reach out, even to one other person whom you know will have a perspective on the item you are learning more about. A few of these conversations will lead you to others aligned on passion in this area. The answer may still not be clear.  Knowing you are not alone, and each building conversation, brings momentum, even if small.
  3. Open Mindsets May Open New Pathways. Though you may be in a learning and reflective flow, as humans we can jump quickly to solutions, and narrow in too quickly. Stay open, curious, seek alternative perspectives, proactively plan for various scenarios. We may be surprised where it leads us, but if ideas were easy to implement, it would have been done by now!
  4. Start Where You Are. We’ve been reminded these past two years that there is far more out of our control than in it. However, there are some things within our control. Perhaps we can’t shift systemic issues or solve these big questions, but we can change the way we act, we can influence those in our network, we can establish new practices, we can come together to begin something new. Even the biggest of evolutions start small, and start, they must.

Congratulations to Michael Cato, Sherri Braxton, Keith ‘Mac’ McIntosh, Cheryl Washington, Tony Moore, Jenn Stringer, Steven Burrell, Raechelle Clemmons, Tonjia Coverdale, Kimberley Marshall, José Rodriguez, Stan Waddell, and so many others involved in modeling these steps outlined above in launching the Next Leaders Fellowship.  And congratulations to the inaugural class of this program! And for all of us, as we reflect on that opening question, where the next leaders will come from, we can be thinking about this effort, this new program.

We can be thinking about the talent around us and how we might think differently in answering looming questions. We can also look in the mirror, knowing that we can make needed change happen, starting from where we are. If you are not sure who the one person you could start this conversation with, reach out to me: [email protected].