By: Clif Smart; President, Missouri State University
Several years ago, General Colin Powell was on campus to give a public affairs convocation address. During his visit, I watched his presentation, got to do a question and answer session with him, saw him give a press conference and watched him interact with people of all backgrounds. He was one of the most impressive people I had ever met.
That inspired me to read his book titled “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.” Chapter one is titled “My Rules.” As a result, I created Clif’s 10 rules to live by, which I go over with each person I hire to work directly for me — members of my university administrative leadership team. Some of my tips are similar to those of the general; some are my own. I’ve modified the list here to make it more generally applicable. But, in essence, here are my rules:
1. No surprises — let me know as soon as you are aware of trouble brewing or problems arising. Don’t delay, hoping they will go away — they almost never do. If I know, I can help you or bring in others who can help you.
2. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts with me, even if they are different than mine. Don’t be afraid to tell me you think I’m wrong — I may be wrong. You are helping me when you do this and won’t be punished — I promise.
3. Cellphones are a great business tool. But turn off your cellphone during meetings. Your focus should be on what we are discussing.
4. Use appropriate lines of communication. I expect people who work for me to limit their communication with my bosses, the board of governors, and inform me if it occurs. In turn, I limit my interaction with their subordinates and inform them if it occurs. Corollary to this rule: communicate on your level with other institutions. I talk to other CEOs. People who report to me talk to other vice presidents. If they need interaction with a CEO, they should tell me and I will do it.
6. I expect people who work for me to be loyal to me — no exceptions. In return, I will be loyal to them and give them public credit for achievements of their unit or of the university when they are involved.
7. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. I will support you if it doesn’t work out — I promise.
8. My team must work together, not in silos. That includes all campuses. First corollary — no empire building. Second corollary — share information. Be inclusive and transparent.
9. Kindness works. Love works. Said another way, I expect professionalism and civility at all times, in all interactions.
10. Never lie or deceive me or your peers. This is a terminable offense — I promise.
These rules are easier to set out on paper than to follow, at least by some managers. To have a leadership team that will live out these rules, I have found you have to hire based more on character than solely on experience. It is so much easier to teach someone the substance of the job than proper tone, civility, honesty, humility, kindness, compassion, collaboration, selflessness, etc.; so, if you want this type of leadership team, it is important to hire people who manage this way.
Clifton “Clif” M. Smart III has served as the 11th president of Missouri State University since June 27, 2011. Smart is known throughout campus and the state of Missouri for his collaborative leadership and strong relationships with students, faculty and staff. Before his presidency, Smart served as the Missouri State University’s general counsel.
This article appeared in the January 8, 2017 edition of The News-Leader and can be accessed online here.