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What’s Your Legacy?

| October 10, 2023

by Laura Patterson

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Laura Patterson, Leadership Coach and Consultant at MOR Associates.  She previously was CIO at the University of Michigan. Laura may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

The press is full of gloomy predictions about the value of a college degree and the future of higher education. Demographic changes, loss of public confidence, declining financial support, rapidly evolving technology, and contentious political interference can paint a pretty dire picture for the industry. I read those stories and think a lot about them, but I disagree with the doomsday predictions. Instead of a higher education downturn, I am optimistic about the future. I’ll tell you why in the following story. It’s a story that hasn’t made national news, but if it did, perhaps the public would be as bullish on higher education as I am.

In 2006, I was part of a conversation with the CIOs of the Big Ten Universities and the University of Chicago, members of an academic consortium now known as the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA), previously called the CIC. The CIO role was changing, and we didn’t see the next generation of CIOs behind us or even where those leaders would come from. As our organizations transitioned from providing technology to providing services and as our universities became increasingly technology-driven on all aspects of the mission and operations, we were concerned about who could step in to lead after us. A leadership pipeline simply didn’t exist. The University of Chicago, a few Big Ten Universities, MIT, and some of the Ivy League universities had participated in a leadership development program offered by an organization called MOR Associates (Maximizing Organizational Resources), and we discussed if the BTAA, as a consortium, could develop a partnership with MOR. A subgroup of the CIOs met with Brian McDonald, the Founder of MOR Associates, to define the leadership capabilities needed for the future. We wanted MOR to offer a program focused on those specific capabilities to cohorts consisting of staff from the BTAA universities. We also wanted to ensure that MOR understood the higher education culture and could work with us as a partner. We did go forward with a partnership with MOR.  Now, 17 years later, I am humbled and amazed by the long-term impact of the initial conversation and the resulting collaboration with MOR.

Over 70 individuals who have been through the MOR IT Leaders Program are now CIOs. I suspect that many of these individuals would have been CIOs anyway, though others decided because of their engagement in a MOR program that becoming a CIO was their personal, professional goal. However, as impressive as it is, the number of MOR-trained CIOs is not the most important part of my story. The early efforts with the MOR Ivy and BTAA/CIC consortium and the national and on-campus programs have catalyzed a much broader and deeper leadership skill set across many universities.

In the ensuing 17 years since that initial conversation, there have been no less than 20  leadership cohorts just from the Big Ten universities. This is well over 600 participants from that community alone. The reach from national programs, on-campus programs, and other consortia arrangements goes far, far beyond that. Thousands have completed a MOR leadership program. The programs have been operating long enough to see a generational change. Universities and individuals excited by these leadership development opportunities are investing locally to build on and expand access to these experiences across their communities. Leadership boot camps, IT academies, mentoring programs, leadership team development initiatives, and leadership workshops have spun up at campuses, building on foundational MOR principles, content, common language, and practices.  

One fascinating aspect of these efforts is that there was untapped potential among those who worked in our universities all along. It is exciting to see this extensive ecosystem that has evolved organically to cultivate the potential of so many people to lead from where they are.

Additionally, as MOR graduates have moved to other institutions, they have taken MOR principles and practices and launched programs at their new universities. This has expanded the leadership network to liberal arts colleges, community colleges, regional networks, and other higher education-related groups. As a result, a learning leadership community now exists that collaborates across institutional and consortia boundaries. The relationships, the shared language and tools, and the resulting collaboration benefit not just the local university; it strengthens higher education as an industry.  

By getting on the balcony to examine the trends and set a course for the future, the CIOs of the universities early into the partnership with MOR certainly achieved what they set out to do and then some. They created a remarkable leadership pipeline. But what is more notable is the foundation of collaborative leadership that is in place that will steer higher education through today’s challenges to a stronger future. This gives me great optimism for the future of our industry.

When I reflect on my career as a CIO in higher education, I used to think my legacy was the many new technologies and changes we introduced. Technologies fade and services change. I now know that a leader’s legacy is different from the technology or services you deliver. Your legacy is the people you impact and the leaders you grow around you. Leaders at all levels who will lead from where they are to continue to advance the organization after you are gone.  

What are you doing to develop your people and to help create a leadership pipeline?

Have you identified who has the interest, potential, and demonstrated performance that gives you confidence they can move to the next level? Develop a plan and invest in their growth.  Look at all levels and across all teams in your organization. Where can you make stretch assignments? What can you do to enable everyone to have a voice to lead from where they are? Do you provide feedback and feed-forward to others around you? Do you share the tools you use with others to help them become more effective leaders? Do you allow more junior staff or peers to participate in events, enabling them to build their networks outside your organization and your university?

John Maxwell wrote, “The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.”  When we, the leaders of today, invest in the leaders of tomorrow, we not only build a personal legacy and advance our universities, we ensure the continued success of the industry we hold dear.

Last week, we asked which leadership styles you were most excited to try out:

  • 30% said Adaptive Leadership
  • 28% said Transformational Leadership
  • 17% said Ubuntu
  • 15% said Servant Leadership
  • 8% said Transactional Leadership

58% of responses were for Adaptive Leadership or Transformational Leadership.  A common thread between these styles is the focus on cultivating relationships and ideas to produce long-term change.  As we say at MOR, “the answer is in the room.” Enabling meaningful connections between individuals so that they openly share and then act upon ideas that produce the needed results is a critical leadership skill in any organization.