Opinion: Facing the new leadership dragons

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Bob Dylan’s popular song, “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” was released in 1964, though the lyrics read like they could have been written yesterday. Every leader is now facing at least two main threats to the core parts of their business or endeavors: finding new financial models to accomplish one’s stated mission and the increased polarization of multiple constituencies that previously had no issues with one another.

The center of everything has split. I am confident were one to dig on Google Scholar, one could find multiple papers on the issue of center-splits. Like the cells that divide, COVID-19 didn’t just change our world; it changed the way people see and interact with the world and one another.

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, said essentially, “No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.”

If living through a pandemic changes one in a way that you’re not the same individual, then the community at large or any collection of individuals is also forever different.

This sense of redefining what really matters and what success looks like is happening right now in higher education.

Rachel is a senior student at Evangel University. She recently shared that the most meaningful aspect of her college experience has been the opportunity to serve our local community. In a recent job interview, she was asked what service means to her and shared from personal experience how service has impacted her life and the value those experiences will bring to a workplace.

Today’s college students aren’t looking for mere education, though quality and rigorous degree programs should be central to our goal. They are looking for tangible ways to make a difference. They want to know that their investment will net something more than just a framed diploma on a wall. They desire to impact their communities in meaningful work that matters.

There are two primary phrases on the front page of our website: Your Calling. Our Passion. I can remember in business school, most professors, in one way or another, believed the culture of an organization would always be more powerful than its vision/mission. One familiar saying is that culture eats vision/mission for breakfast. In other words, what’s going on in the day-to-day world of leaders, or in followers’ lives for that matter, will probably determine the company’s long-term effectiveness.

Recentering an organization with intentional, key moves could be the critical piece needed for any business or educational operation to continue. At Evangel, we are focusing on intentional messaging into the spatial cores of the student experience, and here’s part of the reason why.

Lou Gerstner Jr., who led the turnaround at IBM decades ago, said, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game. It is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

The people who make up any organization, regardless of their title or level of influence, have a significant impact on whether the company or institutional goals will be met.

People’s callings are changing as the world is changing around them. Regardless of what vocation or discipline a student wants to pursue, and regardless of what part of the world they end up in, they will need to embody an ethos of compassion in whatever role they play in whatever company they are employed in.

High school graduates step onto campus, and by the time they land seasonal summer jobs and eventually graduate, the world they step back into will have changed. It’s why in every discipline, we are adding to our assignment the innovation component. We want to graduate compassionate innovators who are helpers and leaders in whatever industry they go into because they have re-centered their lives around the idea of doing good, helping others and advancing the businesses or ministries they lead.

The enviable jobs of today can quickly become the outdated occupations of yesterday. And the lightning-speed evolution of leading industries means that higher education institutions must be at the forefront of flexibility and innovation. By producing students who are known as compassionate innovators, colleges and universities can be confident that graduates excel as they expand their influence in the world as a whole person. This connection of heart and mind allows individuals to flourish, both personally and professionally. 

Mike Rakes is the president of Evangel University. He can be reached at president@evangel.edu.