Dont be an Anxious Leader Dr. John Swallow
Would you do I if you became president of one hundred and seventy three year old college. How would you set the tone? What moves would you make to ensure the values values of what was established long before you continued after you? Would you start with policies or speeches free Beer Thursdays maybe and welcome to the impact of leadership. podcast where we believe no one drifts into excellence. I'm your host Steve Sheer and this episode. I sat down with Dr John. Swallow President of Carthage College in Kenosha Wisconsin. You're going to hear not only what moves John made when he took over as president what his greatest leadership lesson in is but also how he's working to link the colleges rich history to the possibilities of its future but it wasn't exactly smooth sailing. When John considered the role rollers president his first task to make sure his family was on board with the move? I started out The son of a matter of biology professor at a music teacher. Okay and I was thrilled to grow up that way and thought that I might be a teacher. One day started really early to enjoy mathematics. Matic's and sort of follow that out in college. I was a math major and I was also an English major and thought maybe I should be an English professor and I worried a lot about that But then that went on in math got a doctorate started teaching doing some math research as well and loved. It thought that I would be doing that for the rest of my life Married my wife Cameron. So she's she's been a high school and middle school teacher. Math English history drama. And she will tell you that it was not a good day when I came home Not long after I had started at Davidson College and started quoting admission statistics to precisely choosing not a good thing. I thought we were going to. We're going to teach we were GonNA can have our summers great not a good sign so she will track it all the way back to them. I didn't see at that moment I was just interested in lots of things I I was happy Teaching doing research working with students in lots of different capacities mostly math. But also some in the humanities and then I got interested in broader things in part because I joined some committees Davidson. We started tackling some bigger topic strategic planning I found that rewarding and the more I did that the more I thought My work could have a bigger impact. I was really glad to be teaching students and mentoring them and thinking about all that. That but I was realizing over time that I could go from teaching math. which is but I thought I was doing then? Realizing teaching students not math and then helping students uh-huh mentoring students and then what about participating in an organization that's going to affect lots and lots of students over time. There's a lot of reward in that and and so one day. I got a call when I was Davidson College to come and be the provost At swannee my Alma Mater and I took that home Pitched it to the family and they all said No. My kids are twelve and fourteen. They said there's no way relieving And so I called John mcardle Carter President back and I said well you know. Thank you for the offer. Maybe we could do something together. One day but My family just doesn't move and how far Getting reminding me right. Yeah so Davidson. College is in Near Charlotte North Carolina it's Davidson and Sahni or the University of the South is in Tennessee about nine hours away. Okay a little bit of a distance so you know we. We put in a lot of time at Davidson We were very happy there so I called him back and so uh-huh John mcardle being the creative bowl person he is he said well. Why don't we think about this a little bit? What if you gave it a year trial would your family com? They give it a trial. I won't have to commit to you more than a year. You won't have to commit what we think. Yeah I said well. That's really quite interesting. So I took that home The family said well sure. We've been on sabbatical before we. You know we could go somewhere else and then come back home and then over the course of that year all four of us got to the point where we decided. We'd stay while had that not happened. I definitely wouldn't be here as president of Carthage so I came as provost. I became Chief Operating Officer Officer I learned lots about the operations of an institution of higher. Education found it very rewarding and then when our kids were gone and in college we were ready for new adventure and so here I am at Carthage. Yeah while so the from the south to To the freezing north of US got So how do you view your role. And what were the first few practical things you did after becoming president. Carthage College Federally Expansive View of Education. Of course it's a primarily undergraduate But it's a thrill for me To be leading what you might even think of. As a movement that people were committed committed to the education of people Men Women at different stages of their life Thinking about different careers. They might want and being sure that they they have the skills in preparation that they need. I think the best role for the president of an institution like Carthage is comes down to really two things so one is strategy institutional strategy and and there are a lot of challenges for higher education looking forward and then the other is relationships maintaining and extending relationships and what relationships well relationships with students faculty staff alumni donors friends in the community. There are lot of relationships that are at a college or university that have to be sustained by the president And then it's also important for many people in the organization or the movement if you want to call it that to be able to interact with the president and understand where the institutions going and frankly develop a sense of trust about that My view is that nearly everything else that happens at a college university can be done by others and so the president's best role is to be focused on the strategy and the relationships And and to the extent that the institution as well organized a great people doing great work and understanding how to interact Then I can do my best work. I'm not saying I spend every day. Hey only on strategy and relationships But I would imagine that the meetings I men either. We're thinking about the initiatives made to do going forward or I. I am meeting students and faculty and staff or alumni on the road that those are really the occupations that that helps to frame it so then with that in mind into strategy and relationships. When you accepted the position here at Carthage I would? I would imagine because there's people involved that there was some people that had Reservations or questions. Or what's going to change this new guy in in What's The new vision where we go and so what? What did you do to help? Hope connect with that and overcome that bridge. That right I did a lot of listening. I know you often hear that. I did a lot of listening and then doing some very small things just asking lots of questions So one of the small things I did at the beginning which might have had a larger impact was that I looked at the open spaces Dr Green spaces on campus and that didn't seem like anyone was in them as to what if we just get some chairs red chairs because Carthage is red and put them out there in twos and threes When I first AH suggested this to facilities they thought I meant putting chairs by the lake and I said well? That's great but I'm talking about near the road where everybody's visible. Yeah and so it was a small thing but to suggest just that. I'd I'd like to see people together. I'd like to see them gathering faculty and students or faculty and staff just sitting in chairs so taking a few small efforts steps which does show that. I'm I'm observing and thinking and then asking a lot of questions particularly listening for topics that no one's talking about so for instance I was pretty sure that in a lot of our buildings there were systems that we're going to reach the end of their useful life. I was a CEO. I know how this intersection works. Yeah but not a lot of conversation about it so I wanted to just ask learn. Have we analyzed this and so I spent really the whole first year asking questions listening and it could be that people might have said. I didn't I didn't say enough about the vision. I mean I I would. I was willing to talk about me man in just like I am with you. Sure explaining my background but I thought it was a little presumptuous. For First First Time College President in his first year to without knowing the institution well to say that I am convinced. I know exactly what we need to go So there had to be a pivot at a certain point and and I would also say what's very important I think for institutions of higher education is continuity with the past. I think it's pretty difficult to take an organization like this movement and just do a right turn yes right So reading the history and Thankfully Carthage has kept a lot of it two straight and understanding what it has done for years news on how that can be extended into the future was really important and I found a lot of great history For instance I found that we I enrolled women in eighteen seventy some institutions. My Alma Mater included waited one hundred years to do that law and it was so lifting that up and reminding People Carthage that there's something about that there's openness MHM is a willingness to say who needs to be educated in what can we do about it We started teaching business classes and eighteen. Seventy that tells you something. Yeah and when I read the history was able to pull out a theme which is that we have been open at least since eighteen seventy We haven't been defined by who we don't teach or what we won't teach and we're here ear to meet the needs of the world and so that could be the foundation for a vision. I mean it's it's a great principle. Yeah but then to draw upon that later so that was the whole first year it was doing a lot of listening and it was only in the second year that I did anything that one might call casting vision. Okay so as you're as you're talking it's like Oh my goodness why do we exist. That's why does Carthage exist. What is our history and then as you said pulling that theme out and just showing people can sort of fan the flame? That's always been in there and reminding people like we are a community we. We are forward thinking. We've done this before we've been around a long time. Let's keep going with that right right So I like to really start from first principles and say you know we are not an institution for a lot of structure. I we are a group of people. We've been here for not not here. But we've been in existence Organization for over one hundred seventy years. So who have we been in. What have we done And yes to to pull out those moments home and history where it's done something different or bold And to ask how did that play out So starting in eighteen seventy there was a lot to talk about We admitted students of color in the nineteen forties before the civil rights push. We can be proud of that. And then. A one of the boldest decisions this institution has done and moved to Kenosha. It wasn't here it was in Carthage Illinois. You know over four hours from Chicago at a certain point wasn't served by bus or train in anymore and they took a very hard decision. which was we're going to need to move? And the drew triangle Milwaukee Rockford Chicago had competition cities. Kenosha came through with some land. which is if I were by the lake And some money and we got started here started over so you can tell that story a lot of ways. What I see is a really forward-looking institution that took a bold decision Pulled it off with the timing right in the nineteen sixties during the enrollment boom and was it hard. Sure people have to move. You have to move the whole institution faculty and instep sell their houses by houses Settle in a new place but that is a story of deciding what we need to do and get on with it and how exciting it is And I also remind folks that given the demographics of higher education now there are a lot of small schools in small towns that will wish they had moved and we did it fifty years ago. Yeah so you saw as an organization something needs to happen and lots people see stuff that needs to happen but not a lot of people take action on it right So that it's huge so then with that you know still that same theme you talked about vision talk about taking action. So then how do you manage the the vision casting of your staff that you're too and seeing that vision through sociologist. Here's where I think we should go and then staying on the shore as I'm looking out at the lake but but going I took opportunities to start to develop a narrative or a vision Without necessarily calling it one So I didn't want to have a big event before I was ready But you can test messages. You can test teams. You can listen closely to reactions I love to listen It may be that you're saying something. Well maybe you're not communicating. Exactly what you mean so every time. There's an opportunity to speak in front of a group of Faculty Staff Students Alumni. It's an opportunity to tell a story about where we might be going and insert Some messages and themes So I was. I was doing that at the beginning of my second year and then listening hard. If something just fell flat it tells you something it's just not resonating And if you're doing this well I believe. And you're tapping into history and the organizational culture. That's there The ideas that are going to be the right ones for the future need to resonate at least at some level. As you start to articulate them and so I did some of that and then I wrote up a draft of you might say Vision Statement Three pages Shared that shared it with the senior staff. Shared it with the board heard some feedback. It's great we went through another editing process wasn't really submitting it for committee approval. But I think this is where I am I'm I'm trying to explain to myself and others where I think we're going and how do you think I'm doing. And then after a while it started to coalesce and I was a big fan of Refining it to the point point of a very small number of words and so the vision that we are following now is educating expansively integrating regionally and in communicating boldly. I think nearly all of what we're going to need to do for the next ten years can fall under those six words. And what did it start. How how big was it when it started? So you've got it down to six words but what did it say. How many pages or I didn't go over three pages to start with? But still you might say well. We need to launch awesome new Academic curricular may be co curricular programs for the benefit of our students and To diversify or revenue or you could just say we need to educate expansively and so it's that refinement process i. It's all in there but it's just saying it and fewer and fewer words that people can remember the people can't remember it. It's it's just too complicated here. What I love about it is an? I'm happy to say it's mind but at the same time it's not really mine because it follows from institution solution has done so well that for so long and so it's really carthage. It's a way of saying what Carthage has been in a way. That's going to matter for the future. And I I would say that people often want a certainty and the way things are going. It's hard to know it's hard to know what's happening in exactly what we will do every year. But the clarity is important. Very very important. Do you think clearly then is a. Is these step or the key or key to having people take a step towards something that's unsure when when the odds are not one hundred percent yes so articulating a vision that can be expressed in a very small number of words allows you due to base it in principle perhaps even in sentiment And to inspire people to act in. That's coming from the clarity in it's coming from the fact that it's been refined I haven't seen anybody take a very certain line from a strategic plan That takes you know three sentences to say and wake up in the morning and say oh my goodness. I'm so glad you know. We're doing a section three eight today. I could imagine saying waking up and I do this myself and say okay. Are we still educating expense. We are still trying to do that. Are we still integrating regionally. What does that mean and it can continue to change what it means means? But there's a essential clarity underneath it and the lens that you're looking through making decisions as you're hiring people zooming expanding another area so then In two thousand eighteen I believe millennials became the largest. US Population Group and supposedly is estimated to have similar stat by twenty twenty twenty five. I believe twenty twenty-five the millennials will overtake the baby boomers from In the workforce for the largest people group and worked for so with that what. What are your thoughts on Millennials Gen Z.? Entering the workforce and those generational dynamics it is true. That when you have an organization like this you're going to have people different. Generations have different expectations and approaches to their work to interactions at work To how decisions should be made even And I'd say that four the younger folks here. Some of that can seem startling to to people who've been here awhile and have in a very settled expectations bumble with the workplace is going to be like I would say that with all of this and this is not just about generational racial dynamics We need to talk a lot more and a lot more openly about how we WANNA work. What is important to us where The tension points may be. What expectations are I think? Often the mentorship relationships or supervisory relationships aren't healthy enough. We've had some concerns here where A newer employees of might think. You know I have these other things I'm doing in my life. They're important to me. Ah reached the end of the day and so I'm GonNa leave and I'm GonNa go do those things and the other people in the office. Say Well no no. These things have to get done today. And I'm sorry that there's there's GonNa be these other things you're interested in you might have to one or two of them up Waiting for that to be a pain point is not the best approach but Talking about what's most important to the group I find the millennials and and people in general they have a lot of values that are very similar deep down we all want to have fulfilling lives. Yeah we do. We want to have the families that we can assist and support And we all want to get some good work done together At a College University or nonprofit or business of being clear about how we all have these desires needs and then we're going to need to balance them and so what's what's that GonNa look like and there's the optimist in me believing that if we talk some things out we'll get to a good place but if we don't because we are suming that everything's already settled in. My expectations are understood by you. And you understand. Are you gonNa meet them then. We're setting ourselves up for trouble particularly in generational issues so some of the issues. Maybe that are the come about our only issues because comeback something you said earlier. Maybe we're not asking enough questions or listening enough or realizing that that similarity is there. Regardless of age of we one importance we want work that matters we want to PROVIDE THEY WANNA have a good life we want. We want to help our families. What have you seen Since being at the college and in your role not just that Carthage but over the years with this generation this millennial generation. What are some things like? That had stand out that they bring to the workforce that they bring to the world bring to you know educational system. I've seen students mostly from age eighteen on So before they entered the workforce to win they entered the workforce if they're at our campus and so it's a growing and learning process for all of them all the time. I've also seen that there. Many many students who haven't been part of the workforce source as early as students were in a prior generation. Okay there is a difference For whatever reason the numb the percentage of high school students students in the US that have worked outside their house. is twenty percentage points lower. So there's just less experience being in groups oops yeah and doing work together And so I think that leads to Some assumptions About how significant it is to show up on time how significant it is To leave early Whether it's necessary to stay late and you know we can all be kind of idealist about this I like to think that I could work. Just forty hours a week. Why not but? It just doesn't work out that way But I I don't think that those things come from At at least at a place like Carthage we have roll up your sleeves. Kind of students that want to learn hard Study hard and get a job It just may come from Inattention or A lack of a good mentor as they're learning about work and learning about the workforce so That's what I would say I see now. There's some young people for instance that say why don't WanNa live in a small town. I WanNa live in a city for lots of opportunities. Perhaps that's different from some of us. Who are older? Because we we didn't know that we might be able to make a priority like that And some younger people don't see why they can't I don't see anything wrong with that. It's just a question of whether you can make it all work to Iraq At I don't want to say that They're expecting too much much of their expecting too much question is i. Can they find an arrangement enjoyment where they can live that way and do some good work and earn some compensation support their family. Great Yeah So it is a process so I think each generation expectations are are different. I also think that Younger people today are just less likely to accept let seems inauthentic or or marketing. I think they have a kind of a BS meter. That's a pretty sensitive. Just just tell me the truth. Let's not fool around. Don't give me the corporate speak And I think that's a good thing too. I agree with that but that that That characteristic of authenticity that matters to me personally a lot. Even if I don't agree with somebody at least at least I know where we stand right now at least we can agree on that That that stance so The title of the podcast itself is the impact of leadership and I always like to hear who's impacted the folks that I've interviewed and so with that in mind. I've got a triple threat lineup of questions for you okay. What's the greatest leadership lesson that you've learned a WHO did you learn it from or or how did you learn it? And why was that so impactful for you. The greatest leadership lesson I've learned learned is to be a non anxious or non-reactive presence I was taught that By interacting with the Dean of the school theology at Swannee so an Episcopal priest and later Bishop Who pointed out how powerful that can be and how many priests or seminary students need to learn it and it comes from family systems theory but I came to appreciate so strongly? How when there's a really tough discussion to be had? What if you're going to be a leader And you're going to deliver some hard messages. The last thing you want is for this interaction to become just a series of reactions. Somebody gets upset. Then you get upset than you say. Something shouldn't than they react to that. Because all of that as a distraction from what's actually happening and sometimes people need to say a lot of things you need to hear them not ignore them not get upset and so And that's not I don't WanNa say it's checking out. You need to be present in the moment but you need to be a non reactive present here but they have to say they may be angry they may be upset and they may question your motives But develop that capacity over over time That means that the organization will be healthier. People feel like they were hurt Because they really were hurt And you're not introducing being unnecessary emotion into it's already difficult so that lesson which comes from Edwin Friedman who has done some work on this and Edwin Friedman say there are three things. There's being self differentiated which is about not being part of someone else's emotional Matrix And then being non anxious and then being present with those ear leading that all of those things that are vital in families in religious organizations and I would say in all kinds of organizations organizations that are trying hard not to be bureaucratic and hierarchical and all the negative things on. We're authenticity matters They're going to need leaders. Here's who have that capacity. If everything's going well maybe you don't need it but somethings probably gonNA go wrong Some budget's going to need to be adjusted or somebody's office going to have to removed. Or you know some building to be renovated and developing that capacity that that non anxiousness Can over time actually about more confidence accordance and trust then the opposite which is reacting. And everybody knows you're GONNA react. So they they give you the feedback and then you get angry at them and then they go back and forth and turns into a whole thing thing that it never started out in which is completely unproductive and means that people are less likely to tell you what they think. Yeah tell me the truth now. I'd rather not I. I know you're GONNA get angry. Yeah that's good I did. That is a great answer. I'm so glad you said that. So then what are some books PODCASTS leaders places. Things is like that. I mean I'm so intrigued by your your story. And what brought you here and to sit here actually now You encourage folks to to check out well. Edwin Friedman Has Two books. One call generation to generation and others called failure of nerve and they're about leadership And I will say it since we're here that I don't agree with everything in Friedman rights but I think there's a lot of value in in some of that and I would point out one more. Which is Patrick Lynch? The owners of the five dysfunctions of team are yes. I think there's a lot of there and if you can get a team to avoid all five very strong team yeah I I would point that out too. I wondered what the other voice was that I was hearing as you were talking with. Simon Sinek. Start with why and trust as the basis agency only starting with the trust and then moving up from there but start with trust is the basis. Yeah that's right so the the five things to avoid on the team. It'd be the absence of trust. I fear of conflict lack of commitment avoidance of accountability and then inattention to results and Sure enough when you see a team networking you can point out one of those five and maybe more than one. That's not going well but it. It takes a lot of self awareness and work with a group And and Ah being honest about the difficulties to help people grow into that And it can be a a long journey for some people some people. I'm not sure are prepared hard to do all those things to really be vulnerable to acknowledge when they're out of line a two to accept their mistakes in public But I think there's tremendous value there. Yeah well thank you so much John for for Being who you are for leading the way that you do and for taking time because the people that are going to listen to this they're going to get a lot out of it so thank you so much thank you for the opportunity my takeaway and action item are tied together Edwin Friedman's theory of differentiated leadership. I hadn't heard of this before and and was intrigued to say the least so then that led to my action item. I got back to the office. I was researching the theory of differentiated leadership And many figured out okay so once I researched this. I'm going to have to apply it as needed and then pass along to my team so I've been doing just that actually. There's a video on Youtube. Called Friedman's theory of differentiated leadership made simple. When I saw that simple stood out to me because that seems to fit me Like a glove and I've watched it several times and actually I pass it onto both of my directors and believe one of them actually has purchased the book that was referenced by Dr Swallow. And I encourage you to do the same. Whether it's the book or video or both of the book is called a failure of nerve. Well if you've got value from this episode pass it along to somebody else or bring it up at the next networking event you attend. And if you're feeling really froggy give review and a five star rating in whatever APP. You used to listen to podcast. Thank you for your time. If you WANNA connect with us you can shoot us an email at impact podcast cast. CCB TECHNOLOGY DOT com. Or do you want to connect with me specifically ask Steve Sheer on instagram. Steve Share on Lincoln and as always he's from all of us here at C. Technology. Thanks for listening.