Exposure to other styles, other personalities only helps your growth as a leader

During my leadership journey, I have experienced and learned something about leadership that can be applied in the college setting and beyond. Accordingly, I am confident that the three essentials of leadership — education, experience and exposure — can serve as a foundation for others to launch and advance their own careers in this increasingly complex endeavor.

The third of these three essentials is exposure. Over time, I have observed the characteristics of many professionals in my field and other sectors. Admittedly, there has been some behavior I would never model. Others, however, exhibited superior qualities I admired and wished to emulate. Both cases, positive or negative, served as models. 

For example, early in my career I sought to incorporate the communication skills of the late Walter Leland Cronkite, who served as anchorman of CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981. 

Cronkite reported on events during his career that challenged and heralded America, including wars, assassinations and space travel. He was a trusted face and voice who believed in the equality of all people. Cronkite famously said, “There is no such things as a little freedom. Either you are all free or you are not free.” 

In addition, I was privileged to know the late Congressman Louis Stokes for more than 20 years before his death. Referred to as “The Gentleman from Ohio,” which not so coincidentally was the title of his autobiography, Stokes served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969 to 1999. 

His remarkable life epitomizes how to overcome adversity. From the stigma of growing up in inner-city Cleveland to the sting of racially charged political environments across America, Stokes had a distinguished career as a congressman, carrying out his responsibilities with enthusiasm and zeal at the highest level, always on behalf of the people of Cleveland whom he served. Stokes’ steadfast determination and genuine humility are traits I admire and attempt to apply to my own life as I carry out my daily responsibilities. 

Finally, a person I respect for his skills of persuasion is William Clyde Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina General Administration. His effort to desegregate the state’s public, four-year universities amid a federal court order was considered an historic accomplishment.

His work, among others, gave root to my desire to foster inclusion, fairness and the opportunity for education for each student attending the institutions for which I have been responsible. They gave substance to my current belief in making opportunities for leadership open to everyone. These opportunities shape and enrich an individual’s life and the future of an organization. 

This exposure also helped me understand I must be about the business of preparing successful citizens who, in the sentiments of Cornel West, situate themselves in the larger contexts of our community and imagine a future rooted in the past, but who are keenly aware of the problems that will perplex us.

This is from Alex Johnson’s book, “Change the Lapel Pin,” published by Smart Business Books, which is available through Tri-C campus bookstores or online at www.tri-c.edu/changethelapelpin.