Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Meaningful Comment

Today, I attended a breakfast speaker series that is run by United Way called In Their Own Words.  The speaker was the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.  At my level of donation to the United Way, when I get invitations to these breakfasts, I have the opportunity to invite others to accompany me.  So, for today's breakfast, I had invited three people I have mentored over time--my last MPH advisee, one of the full time MBA students who graduated last May and is still in Baltimore and continuing to look for a job, and one of my training partners for whom I am also  a mentor.

One of the comments from the speaker, which she attributed to former Governor William Donald Schaefer, was "people will not care how much you know until they know how much you care."

I thought that was quite a powerful comment and even shared my thought with my three guests by email afterwards.  I'm not sure that I could have come up with that catchy of a phrase by myself but it is certainly something that I try to live by.

What is most interesting is to think about my own evolution as I have followed my dreams over the years.  I can think about this both in terms of my running life and my academic life.

For my running life, I used to think it was all about how fast I ran.  How far I ran.  How much I know know about running.  That was when I ran alone.  And obviously to run with people, I have to match up with them in terms of paces and distances, but the people I have formed long-lasting running relationships with are those who know how much I care.  Those with whom I have a close personal relationship as well as matching up well for running. When I recognized the importance of those closer personal relationships, running became more than just running.  It became running and writing and mentoring and self-expression.  It became so much more in my life than just exercise.  It became a part of what defines me.  So now when I am trying to reach the goal of completing the 56 mile Comrades run, those I care about and who care about me stick with me, encourage me, and will be cheering me on when the race day arrives.

For my academic life, in the earliest grades, I thought it was all about what I knew.  And to the degree that I showed that I cared, it was usually tied to demonstrating how much I knew and how much better I was academically rather than just helping.  There came a time--starting in the sixth grade and continuing through high school--when I moved away from that.  Still, I had an unnaturally strong interest in making sure I was valedictorian.  Fast forward many years--and in my leadership today, I make sure to get to know people.  I spoke with a new employee in employer relations at the business school today and asked (jokingly) whether career services was what she always dreamed about.  I offered my vision of how student services should be there to help students when they need it but otherwise get out of the way of student success.  I spent a half hour speaking with her and it made an impression.  I talked strategically with two of my direct reports about what comes next for them and for the school.  I have invested in getting to know a ton about them to make the relationships more complete and more meaningful so that they we can succeed together given what we both know and the skills we both have.

Even with respect to Sharp Dressed Man.  Yes, it is great that I know people who might help the two who started the information and the executive director whom I will meet tomorrow to achieve the organization's goals.  But it all has to start from caring about the two guys who started it and caring about serving the men who are helped by the organization to motivate that relationship and build the trust and mutual respect to make this happen.

As I wrote on a social media post this morning.  The expression from the speaker is a set of words to live by.  And a set of words to lead by.  And as I wrote to my guests--I hope they see that in me as much as I see it in myself.  To use a clich√©--actions speak louder than words. So, I will test whether my actions are perceived to show my caring for others to the degree I hope they are. 

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