With all the travel, hotel stops in different cities and subpar food along the way, life on the road can be tiring. But when you set 30 dates for a Rock Tour, you have to be on every night.
And so, Rock Jones has been taking his best playlist with him across the country throughout his first year as president of Ohio Wesleyan University. Jones’ trip to meet with alumni and other stakeholders across the country has been affectionately dubbed “The Rock Tour,” and even though he’s not playing Top 40 hits, he’s been traveling since last October to talk with people about the liberal arts college’s future to help shape OWU’s vision and strategic plan.
He’s already started to use feedback he’s heard to build momentum with all of those people he saw along the way as well as with the more than 135 full-time faculty members.
Smart Business spoke with Jones about how you get the proper context for a vision and why building up people’s trust makes you a more effective leader.
Build the proper context for a collaborative vision. It’s not so much that collaboration is the top priority; it’s a step toward the top priority. The top priority is creating and articulating a vision that advances the institution and allows Ohio Wesleyan to fulfill its mission in the most robust way. The way that objective can best be achieved is with a process that’s collaborative, and creating opportunities for all of the stakeholders to invest their time, their intellect and their capacity in reflecting on helping to create this vision becomes very important.
That happens in some ways formally and in other ways informally. Certainly much of my time this first year has been structured to create a context in which various stakeholders have an opportunity to invest themselves in the process. My travel schedule and calendar would reflect that.
Very little of my time has been behind a desk, and a large amount of my time both at events of all sorts on campus — from meetings and conversations that I’ve scheduled to attending student events of all kinds, athletic contests, musical concerts, theater productions, artistic openings, lectures, research presentations — to the times off campus, meeting individually with alumni in those 30 cities, that’s been dubbed the Rock Tour. But the point has been to give me the full benefit of exposure to everybody who cares about Ohio Wesleyan and wants to make a difference in its future.
I’ve created numerous opportunities for interaction with the students to hear from them. I have communicated electronically with parents of our students and have been able to solicit input from them in that way and then, as I’ve listened to the various constituencies, I’ve communicated back to them what I am hearing and the vision that is evolving for the future of Ohio Wesleyan. I’ve had some excellent feedback from draft documents of our strategic plan that have allowed me to improve on the initial draft with the benefit of insight and wisdom from all corners, from faculty, trustees, from alumni, from staff, from students.
It’s the leader’s responsibility to sift through all of the information that’s received all of the ideas that are shared and to articulate a vision that advances the mission of the institution, that is bold and aspirational but also is achievable. So it’s the balance between setting the highest possible aspirations and ensuring that the vision is one that both stretches but can be achieved.
Hire for diverse thinking. It’s very important to hire people who can be effective members of the team that work collaboratively, that can work with a common purpose toward a common vision. But at the same time, it’s important to bring in people who have different life experiences, different worldviews. It’s important to hire people who are comfortable speaking up when they disagree, who can give me good counsel, even if it’s counsel to take a direction different than the one I might be considering. But then, at the end of the day, they are willing to unite as a team and go forward with a single purpose. So it’s important to have a leadership team that represents a variety of perspectives and ways of thinking about the work we do but that also has the capacity to work together and be an effective team.
Selecting the right people to work with me is probably the most important thing that I do, and it’s a process that is somewhat intuitive. You spend enough time with candidates to begin to understand something about who they are and how they work, talking carefully and candidly with people who have known and worked with them in various capacities in various ways through the years is important. But, ultimately, you never know until you find yourself working together day in and day out, and these jobs are intense jobs that require long hours and a significant amount of time together.
Build trust to further collaboration. Another thing that’s been said to me in a number of different ways is people don’t follow what they don’t trust. And critical to effective leadership is the development of trust, and the whole issue of the power of empathy as a way to build respect and gain trust is very important.
Most people have pretty good sensitivities to whether or not a person listens and whether or not they are valued for who they are and for their convictions or their own values. You don’t have to agree with someone to respect the fact that that person has understandings that are important to him or her. So create opportunities for mutual exchange. Ensuring that people feel that they’ve been heard and that they can see in actions that are taken that they have been heard is an important aspect of trust building.
How to reach: Ohio Wesleyan University, (740) 368-2000 or www.owu.edu