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 with.”
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.
Articulate your goals. I always tell students that 90 percent of success is just showing up. It’s like an old Woody Allen quote, but I really believe in it. You have to have a goal that you pursue, let’s say a college education.
Just knowing that you want to pursue your education is success in itself. Being able to articulate those goals and address those goals and meet those goals is kind of like the ultimate journey you’ve completed.
(We) developed within the university a broad-based university planning council comprised of students, faculty, staff and administration. All of them come together around the table once a week to go through a planning process of putting together a set of priorities that track those values and that particular belief system.
It does create a lot of discussion. There is bantering back and forth. ‘Why should we fund this and not that area? That diverse group of folks is going to have different opinions on how to get there.
Ask questions. Ask whether that’s the direction we’re going to go. There’s a constant level of engagement and connectedness that is occurring. It’s engaging everyone in this process.
If we have a common purpose or outcome that we have agreed on that is in the strategic plan, that is part of the university’s lifeblood. You’ve got that as a purpose and as a goal.
Let your people shine. Engage folks by allowing them to be themselves and by saying that they can be just as productive as anyone else. That’s the approach that is much more proactive. People really buy in to it and are dedicated to what they want to do.
They are going to approach issues and challenges quite differently. Let them know upfront that these are their tasks and responsibilities and this is what they need to do.
Give people the confidence and the opportunity to address you or send you information or just knock on your door and stop you in the hallway. Be accessible, be a good listener and listen to the advice and to the feedback you get.
Allow for that type of communication. Allow folks to provide you differences of opinion for issues perhaps you haven’t even thought of or a specific variable that makes a difference in making a decision.
Give folks the opportunity to say that they are engaged and that you are forthcoming.
HOW TO REACH: University of Houston-Downtown, (713) 221-8000 or www.uhd.edu