Laying the foundation Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

A dream without plans is

mere hallucination.

Such is the advice that

Andrew K. Benton relied on

after becoming president and

CEO at Pepperdine University in

2000. After studying the institution’s then 63-year history, the

leader set his sight toward

future goals, but not without

first laying a strong foundation

in the present.

You can’t just make bold

proclamations, Benton says.

You also have to invest the time

and planning to make those

goals a reality. To guide such

thinking, the president enlisted

the help of his constituents to

develop a mission statement

that was both profound and


Eight years later, these efforts

have given Benton solid footing while overseeing a fiscal

2007 budget of $267 million

and current enrollment of

7,600 students.

Smart Business spoke with

Benton about the importance of

soliciting feedback and setting

goals and how to find balance

in the process.

Look back at history before moving

forward. [Before creating a mission statement], you really have

to know how your organization

can perform, how it will respond

to stress and how it will respond

to success.

I spent some wonderful hours

reading some early radio messages that George Pepperdine

delivered back in the 1920s. Also,

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to

understand the six preceding


The perfection of 20/20 hindsight is a remarkable thing. Every

institution, even the most venerable institutions in America, has

had points of crisis. It’s good to

go back and understand what

caused changes in direction,

what they changed and what

they kept the same.

That’s a lot of what a president

has to decide — what should be

continued and then what needs

to be changed going forward.

To understand the institution

and where it’s been is very indicative and very informative as to

where the institution can and

should go.

Keep your mission statement brief.

It’s important to set a vision that

is sympathetic with the end goal

and then to keep it simple and

to keep it easily applicable.

We live in a time when many

institutions have not only mission statements but also vision

statements. One of the things

that I’ve learned [from] being

asked to work on both vision

statements and mission statements is the importance of producing statements that all of

your colleagues and all of your

constituents can readily grasp.

I now look with some disdain

at overlong mission/vision statements. The simplicity and the

profound quality of a very few

number of words can make a big difference on an organization.

Solicit feedback. Put (your mission statement) out for public


The Internet and Web sites are

wonderful things. You can actually go to every member of your

family and you can say, ‘This is

the strategic plan for the direction of the university. What do

you think?’

It’s not like the old days when

hard copy was flying around. Today, with very few keystrokes,

you can ask every member of

your community to comment on

the direction to make sure that it

is a shared journey. That’s very,

very helpful to get the word out

and then get feedback.

Share your expectations with employees. Your goal-setting strengthens the longer you are in that

position and really have a sense

for the opportunities and the

challenges in a particular area.

There’s no substitute for being

present in the workplace and

being present as much as you

can in the decision-making

processes and the people who

make those decisions. As you

gain greater insight into what

they do and the people with

whom they do it, the better you

are at helping them shape meaningful goals for the coming year.

[When you set goals], employees are more likely to be emotionally well in their position.

They know whether they’re

doing a good job or not. They

know areas where they need

to strengthen their service.

If we know what’s expected of us, and we are objectively meeting those expectations, we are

going to feel better about ourselves, and we are going to be

better employees.

If it’s loose and very amorphous, it’s very hard to thrive in

that environment. It’s very hard

to look forward to a new year

and new opportunities because

you really don’t know how

you’ve been doing and how you

stand within the organization.

Goal-setting and frank appraisal on a regular basis is absolutely


Find balance. Leaders aren’t of

one type, but leaders tend to be

pretty driven.

As leaders, we need to periodically examine how we’re using

our time and to whom we’re

apologizing to for not being able to give more time. ... I get so

busy in the works that I do, but I

hope I never get to a point where

I don’t have time to be a good

friend, also. Family shouldn’t

pay a price for our striving.

The single most important thing

to do is spend the first two hours

of every day by yourself.

I get up very early, I pray, I think,

and I get a handle on what I hope

to do that day. It is the most centering, invigorating thing.

If you get up and you immediately get on the treadmill ... and

you don’t get off that treadmill

until 9:30 that night, that’s not a

life. That may be a career, but

that’s not a life.

Finding time for oneself and

daily engaging in a re-centering,

reflective effort is terribly


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