Leading by learning

Max Castillo hates the idea
that someone would walk into an elevator with him at the
University of Houston-Downtown
and think he was too important
to talk to.

“I’ll start talking,” says the
university president. “I do that
with complete strangers. Folks
get in the elevator and are very
serious, and I’ll just start talking. ‘Let’s ride up together.’
Take your job seriously, but
don’t take yourself seriously.”

Castillo constantly seeks to
build relationships with his
nearly 1,000 employees and
11,793 students. He says that
you have to be visible and show
others that you need them to
make it all work if you expect
your organization to succeed.

“No single individual can really address leadership in terms
of the direction you want to go
and how you want to take folks
in a common direction,” Castillo
says. “You don’t do that unless
you establish some sense of
community among staff and the
institution you work with, are
involved with and are connected

Smart Business spoke with
Castillo about how to reach
goals without worrying about
building consensus.

Check your ego. Leadership
begins with a purpose outside
yourself. It is not vested in any
one individual. Work on getting others to help you be a
strong leader.

Do that by truly believing
that you’re not on an ego trip
but that you’re there to provide the direction you want
that entity to go. You don’t do
that by yourself.

You have to somehow engage
others in that process. That’s
critically important. It’s all about
engaging human beings. Ninety
percent of the problems in an
institution are human problems.
You can address those by having a human organization truly
feel they are making a difference to move forward.

I don’t think you ever really
build consensus. You get a
majority moving in that direction
and address it that way. You’ll
never have 100 percent buy-in.
You’re not going to get that.
Leadership is not short term; it’s
long term. It’s really staying the
course and staying true to that,
and over time, people begin to
convince themselves, ‘Hey, we’re
going in the right direction.’

Fly like the geese. There’s an
anecdote I read not too long ago
called, ‘Lessons from geese.’
Geese, they fly in a certain formation because they need to be
able to stay in a formation and
go in a common direction.
That’s what leadership is. It’s a
sense of community.

We can get there faster if
we’re going in the same direction. Rally people around that
idea you have. Rally them
around that particular need to
move the institution, regardless of your own predisposition and your own biases.

Encourage the staff around
you and the community around
you that what we have to do
and what we have to accomplish as an institution, it’s all
interdependent on each other.

Not everyone is going to initially jump on that train with
you. That’s OK because you
welcome differences, you welcome some different directions, you welcome the fact
there may be some criticism.

Ultimately, if 90 percent of the
folks are saying, ‘That’s the
direction we need to go,’ I think
you are going to succeed at it.