Building Shared Culture Requires Listening, Learning & Leadership

As we continue our focus on the imperatives of our 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, “Elevating Middle Georgia,” we turn our attention to Building Shared Culture. Our shared culture is one of learning. As we prioritize learning, we strengthen the core of who we are and what we offer this region.

This past week I was struck powerfully by the importance of learning truly being a lifelong activity. No matter how experienced we are, we always can benefit from others who assist us in our professional and personal journeys of improvement.

We have emblazoned on our banners around our campuses the four values of MGA, including the central mission purpose of “Learning”.  So I hope you will forgive me today for a lengthy reflection on my own need for learning, my dependency on all of us at MGA (faculty, staff, students) and beyond (alumni, community members) to help me understand why continued learning is essential for me to be effective in my own professional life as your colleague and your president, and how our collective learning builds a culture of which we can all be proud.

Last Friday I attended the investiture of the new president of Georgia Southwestern University, Dr. Neal Weaver.  I was struck by his investiture remarks, highlighting the people throughout his life and right up to today who have mentored, taught and facilitated his own growth.  Earlier in the week we held our Fall meeting of the newly titled President’s Advisory Board at our Warner Robins campus, comprised of members of the statewide community and stakeholders who volunteer their time to advise me on the progress of the University.  And earlier in the week the Presidents of all USG institutions met together for our Autumn retreat, to consult with the Chancellor and his team in order to consider how best to navigate our institutions forward in these times of stress and change.

The common denominator here is that each occasion reminded me that as a professional I need others to help me consider, understand and act in my role as MGA president.  This past week I met with groups largely outside the institution, but going forward I need ask us all—and especially me, since I am responsible for myself—to listen to and learn from each other on campus.

Rarely in each day do we find time to listen—we are often too busy doing.  But it is vital we do listen, and I plan to listen to the voices of many, including the Faculty Senate, the Staff Council, the SGA, the Foundation Board, and the Cabinet to help me understand the challenges we face in doing our work at MGA.  I shall also continue to hold office hours, but I recognize that isn’t necessarily the best way to hear from my colleagues.  So please know I am seeking your assistance in ensuring that we each are open to listening and hearing, so we can grow in our professional lives.

One major initiative in our Strategic Plan for this year is a Campus Climate survey.  This too must become an essential opportunity and tool in helping us—and me as president—to hear about the working life of MGA and how we can improve it.  As president, that responsibility falls clearly on my desk to address.

Regular surveys that provide rich data to inform our decisions, and analysis of that data, is becoming part of our shared culture. Yet, data collection does not and should not replace the opportunities to gather face-to-face and listen and learn from one another.

Every day I come to work humbled and grateful for the responsibility of being your president, as I near the completion of my fifth year here.  I do not take my role in any way for granted.  I am aware of the many times each day I do not fulfil its opportunities to the highest level and I ask your forbearance when I fall short in performing its duties. I believe that each one of us who works at MGA—faculty and staff—have a God-given opportunity both to teach others and to learn from others, and that indeed is the mission of learning we are called to strive for each day.

Thank you for the many ways each day you teach our students, each other, and me as your president.  My hope is that every day we can each grow a little in what we understand and what we do, in pursuit of learning. As we do, we will build a shared culture that stands the test of time and truly transforms us, our students, our region, and our state.