Emory Report
April 24, 2006
Volume 58, Number 28


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April 24 , 2006
Leadership and authority

Johnnie Ray is senior vice president for Development and University Relations.

It seems like you can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on a television these days without hearing someone talk about “leadership.” Recently we had two well-known leaders—retired Gen. Wesley Clark and former attorney general John Ashcroft—visit campus to speak about the vital importance of leadership in the world today.

And, certainly at Emory, leadership has been a hot topic, as nearly all the faces in our senior leadership positions have changed in the last few years.

But true leadership reverberates far beyond the Administration Building. Indeed, the term “lead from where you sit” should hold great meaning, not only for those of us in Development and University Relations (DUR), but for all of Emory. We should embrace this notion wholeheartedly.

The place someone occupies on an organizational chart has little to do with his or her ability to demonstrate leadership, because leadership can be expressed in so many different ways: designing critical process improvements; having the courage to put forth and implement innovative ideas; demonstrating high ideals and standards; encouraging others who may be in need of fresh advice; contributing to a collegial and supportive environment, ethical behavior, service orientation in the purest sense. And on and on.

In an organization as large as ours, leadership in all its manifestations, along with collegiality, should matter more than anything else. Achievement through leadership and the personal and professional satisfaction derived therein is within everyone’s grasp.

We spend a great deal of time at work. Does it not make sense to derive maximum satisfaction from this investment of time by being involved with and achieving something important, even extraordinary? The opportunity is in front of us.

The leadership vector
Leadership is essentially a vector; it must have both direction (strategy) and energy. Without strategy, you fail.
Without energy, even the best strategies cannot be executed. In other words, strategy without energy is futile, and energy without strategy is chaos or, at best, the genesis of a lot of compulsive, unproductive activity.

Through its vision statement, the notion of being a true university and the strategic plan, Emory has direction. More energy is marshaled every day, as the community is infused with the new strategy. So, the ingredients for the leadership vector clearly exist here.

Of course, all is not yet crystal clear—and the processes may even have been a bit messy at times—but that is the nature of intensive strategic planning. What’s important is that Emory now has what it needs to move ahead. And the environment that exists now is ideal for people to lead from where they sit: There is a clear strategic picture that needs to be advanced, and it will require the participation of everyone in the University.

As more and more people begin to contribute, there is one asset they can all bring to the table that will help point our leadership vector forward: truth. In fact, I submit that the degree to which we demonstrate leadership as individuals and as an organization correlates to how willing we are to tell each other the truth. Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because it is more comfortable.”

It is critical that we be a “truth telling organization.” Let’s engage people in building a climate of truth telling that will lead to an ethic of intense collegiality, a more defined sense of the obligations we have to each other as colleagues, and a heightened individual and collective energy. Let’s do this by always treating each other as we would want to be treated, by asking the right questions of each other, and by continuously probing underlying assumptions that may or may not any longer have relevance in the Emory of this time and place.

Defining ‘authority’
Just as the term “leadership” has many manifestations, so can “authority” be defined very broadly and perhaps quite differently than normally perceived. We are undergoing a cultural shift, within both DUR and the broader University. And that cultural shift includes a new definition of what is meant by authority.

We want to be innovative. We want to take advantage of cutting-edge techniques to set new standards of performance. And we want Emory to become an excellent place for people to work—a “destination” for educated, creative people who intend to do something significant with their professional lives.

Becoming that good place for people to work is not just about being moral or decent (though it is certainly that). It is also the tactically sound thing to do if we aspire to be at the top of our profession. Indeed, it is the quality of the work environment for every person—again, regardless of his or her place on the organizational chart—that will allow our individual and professional aspirations to be realized.

People simply will not think creatively or perform well if they do not feel valued or have the freedom to give full scope to their talents. Conversely, if everyone is valued and given both the proper context for their work and the room to act entrepreneurially, many of the factors that restrict them or sap their energy will simply disappear. May we all strive for a time when we never have to say about anyone at Emory that “her light is hidden under a bushel basket.”

There is no dichotomy between what is efficient and what is humane. They are one and the same. The “tools” of authority should not be about force or intimidation, nor even the ability to issue commands, but rather by being accessible, engaging in constant dialogue and treating people with the utmost respect. We are all colleagues, and while we may differ vigorously on tactics, our professional courtesy and respect for each other should be boundless.

What we do—at least, what we do in DUR—does not conform well to an extreme hierarchical model (though there must be some hierarchy in order to move business swiftly). We should not be about emphasizing rank, boundary and division. Rather we should be about interactive leadership based on influence and maintained by communication. Command-and-control charisma, which is based on position and maintained by distance, is not conducive to the work we do.

Ideas have to come from everywhere, not just top down. What people do should depend on their talent and ambition, not on their titles. Those of us in the organization who can be categorized as “managers” should be about setting others up to hit home runs and then shouting their praises when the ball leaves the park. (And while we are on the baseball analogy, managers should be willing to “take one for the team” when mistakes are made out of pure and good intentions.)

Authority is derived from being accessible, since access allows us to shape information as it evolves. Interactive leadership is what builds loyalty and trust, causing people to give benefit of the doubt in difficult times—for example, when resources may be low—and motivates them to step up when extenuating circumstances arise.

What most people want, I have found, is the feeling that they are a part of something important, something larger than themselves. Simply to have a contextual understanding of where we fit inside something as grand and important as Emory is highly motivating. Frankly, it’s why most of us have chosen to work in a university setting.

Let us create an organization in which everyone leads and authority is the natural byproduct of a set of high- ground values.