Community Leadership School

Below are President Glasser's remarks from the Community Leadership School event on March 23, 2012.

It is my pleasure to be here with you today. You represent some of the most important organizations and companies in our community – Caterpillar, River City Construction, OSF Saint Francis and Methodist Medical Centers, and Maloof Realtor, just to name a few.

Your participation in the Community Leadership School illustrates your commitment to reaching your own personal goals, and also strengthening the Peoria area.

I am in extremely good company here this morning, and humbled by this opportunity to share my views on leadership.

Warren Bennis, a prolific writer on the topic of leadership, once observed that after decades of academic research and thousands of empirical studies, there are more than 350 published definitions of leadership. When you have so many definitions of leadership, no wonder there isn’t any clear understanding of what distinguishes leaders from followers. As Bennis concluded, “never have so many labored so long to say so little.”

Leadership isn’t easily defined, but – like some other topics you may be familiar with -- we know leaders when we see them. Of course, if I asked each of you to name the five greatest leaders of all time, your answers would be different. Leadership is subjective; the proof is in the results of the organization you lead. Now I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I can speak from my own experiences. I can share with you what I have learned and what I believe.

To me, effective leaders possess at least three key qualities, and I’d like to explain them in personal terms.

My story began in Baltimore. My mother instilled in me a desire to serve others, and she rarely missed an opportunity to help those in need. Every Christmas and Easter, our family went to a beautiful Catholic church near our home to fill food baskets or serve meals to the less fortunate.

Yes, if you can imagine, a Jewish family at a Catholic church on the holiest of Christian holidays. But to my mother, it made no difference. Helping others was what we did, and it helped shape who I am today.

So the first quality of a leader is service. As Martin Luther King Junior said: “everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul.”

Now I think all of you know the basics of grammar, and I’m sure some of you even know the second theory of thermodynamics, but those are not the skills you draw on to serve others.

Yes, your education and your careers are important, but the time you give to your churches, your children’s schools and to community organizations defines you and makes you well-rounded contributors to this community.

Because you are here early this morning, I know you are committed to helping and serving others. Use your leadership skills to continue doing so. Local charities have had a rough few years, and they are eager to welcome a helping hand.

Now I am curious, how many Bradley grads do we have here? If you went to Bradley, you know our students are no strangers to service. With more than 240 student organizations on campus, our students stay involved, giving time and raising money for Habitat for Humanity, the Children’s Miracle Network, and the Center for Prevention of Abuse, and hundreds of other worthy causes.

Last year, Bradley students totaled some impressive contributions. They collected and donated more than 6,300 articles of clothing, 2,500 cans of food and 1,200 pints of blood. They volunteered more than 46,500 hours, and they raised about $186,000 for 65 different charities.

They give their time on weekends, when they could be sleeping in. Through a program called service on Saturdays, students get up early and volunteer. Through this fantastic program and many others, students become servant leaders, learning a sense of civic responsibility. I am so proud of them.

Second, I believe good leaders have passion for what they do. How do I define passion? It means having fire in your belly for your work. It means bringing energy every day, an infectious enthusiasm that rubs off on others. And it means loving what you do and doing what you love. You can find your passion in many ways.

When I was a young girl, I read To Kill A Mockingbird and I was inspired. I immediately knew I wanted to become a lawyer.

The problem was I am a woman, and at the time, few women pursued law degrees. My father discouraged me, knowing it would not be an easy journey. But my mother encouraged me to follow my heart.

My father was right in a way. It wasn’t easy at times. But I graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law, one of the few women in my class. It was a proud day, and I am just as proud to be the first female president of Bradley.

If you are passionate about what you do, you will motivate others.

I’d like to share a short story with you about passion.

When George Whitfield was getting the people of Edinburgh, Scotland, out of bed at five o’clock in the morning to hear him preach, a man on his way to the tabernacle met David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and skeptic. Surprised at meeting Hume on his way to hear Whitfield, the man said,” I thought you did not believe in the gospel.” Hume replied, “I don’t, but he does.”

So your passion may not be the same as others, but in following your own personal passion, you will find self fulfillment and inspire others.

Use your inspiration, your passion to motivate others to create and build a vision for your organization that will get others excited, encouraging them to assume ownership of that vision to move your institution forward.

My third key to for you today is that good leaders are humble.

Humility is often perceived as a weakness, when, in fact, it can be a tremendous asset. The leader who is humble rarely allows power to cloud her judgment. The leader who recognizes that she is not perfect creates an environment where those around her feel comfortable making mistakes and taking chances.

I don’t look for yes-men and yes-women. I don’t need bobbleheads who agree with everything I say, but rather independent thinkers … people who keep me humble.

Surround yourselves with people who have unique skills different from your own. One person can’t know everything, so open your mind to consultation and ask questions.

I ask questions no matter the situation. Let me provide an example.

During my first week on campus, Peoria was new terrain. Admittedly, I didn’t know Bradley Hall from the Field House. Frankly, I wasn’t quite sure where my office was.

Driving along Bradley Avenue, I rolled down my window and asked a student where I could find Swords Hall. Thankfully, she did more than point me in the right direction; she took me there.

While I do know my way around campus now, I still don’t know everything, and I turn to students and faculty for their knowledge and opinions.

I hold monthly office hours so students can share their ideas and concerns – one on one – just like they do with their professors. I think it’s so important to take a break from meetings, luncheons and computers to hear from those we care about most at Bradley … students. They are what it’s all about. They are why I’m here, and they give me inspiration.

Most ideas on this campus bubble up from students, faculty and staff. They don’t come from the top down. I’m sure that’s true in your organizations. So keep the lines of communication open. Be a good listener. Ask questions. Remain humble.

Sometimes leadership is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. And sometimes it’s a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of us probably didn’t know very much about New York city’s Mayor on September 10, 2001. He was not very popular. He was viewed as arrogant. His personal life was in shambles.

But the vision of Mayor Rudy Giuliani calmly leading his city through the most tragic and terrible event in its history on September 11 and in the months that followed is now forever etched into our memories as an image of an inspiring leader.

Leadership is tested in many ways. The demands on a leader vary wildly, depending on circumstances. But leaders are everywhere, even though we might not recognize them every time. The college freshman who decides not to attend a drinking party is a leader. The professor who helps his C-student become an A-student is a leader. You don’t have to have a fancy title in front of your name to make a difference.

I’d briefly add two more elements to service, passion and humility. First, remain true to your own core values; they will take you far. In the words of John Quincy Adams, “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

I encourage you to follow President Adams’ advice: dream … learn … do more. Be a leader and make a difference in our wonderful community.

Second, provide hope. The first responsibility of a leader is to offer hope. Wrap your hopeful message with care and compassion for others.

Never lose the high-touch, even in this high-tech world. Leaders who truly develop thick skin and lose their sensitivity are not really good role models or positive examples of humanity.

So my last advice to you is this: be sensitive to others. Retain your humanity when dealing with others. Try to understand their needs. Be a good listener.

I believe that organizations, like people, are value driven.  Stay true to your core values

Thanks you for listening and for being on our campus.

I understand you are going on a tour of campus. Please notice the significant improvements we’ve made in the last few years, while maintaining the compact personal residential feel of our hilltop. With our flowers, greenery and banners, I hope you agree that our campus has never looked better.

Thank you for being here and for providing the opportunity to speak today, and thank you for visiting Bradley. I wish you all the best.