This final installment about the “The Seven Characteristics That Set Great Leaders Apart,” features Paul Rooney, assistant vice president, safety and security; Kurt Ewen, assistant vice president, institutional effectiveness and planning; and Gert Garman, director, Collaborative Design Center, as they share their experiences and viewpoints that guide their actions with this characteristic in mind.
Characteristic #7: Be courageous. Defy logic and conventional wisdom and blaze new trails. Don’t dwell on why something can’t be done, but only consider how it might be accomplished. Make a decision, announce it and then you and your team should set about making it a reality.
Paul believes that courage is an extremely important characteristic of great leaders and that a true leader does not settle for average, but pushes his or her team to go the extra mile. Courageous leaders stand up for doing the right thing and create an environment that fosters team building and new ideas.
“I was a member of the Orlando Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics Team (S.W.A.T.) for 17 years and worked my way from entry-level assault team member to overall commander of the team,” Paul shares. “I witnessed thousands of courageous acts over the years. These brave S.W.A.T. team members would execute search warrants and would never know what they would face. This has taught me to be courageous in my leadership style. These acts of true courage inspire me to push the limits and prove that nothing is impossible, to live each day to the fullest and bring out the best in people. It’s about teamwork and the strength in numbers.”
Paul has a plaque that hangs in his office that reads; “It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.” In other words, a truly courageous leader is in the fight and will either find a way or make one.
“Being courageous can mean more than running toward the gunfire when others are running away. It means standing for what is right and just,” Paul added.
“The role of departments like institutional research and institutional assessment is to collect, analyze and disseminate information about how the College is doing,” says Kurt. “And it’s important to ask critical questions like: Are students learning what we say they should? Are they succeeding and persisting in reaching their goals? Is their experience of the College what we would hope?”
“The answers to these questions can often be challenging and require that we create an environment within which our colleagues have the freedom and courage to speak and/or hear the truth,” Kurt explained. “At the same time, to act with courage requires the leader to have a willingness to both speak and hear the truth, especially when it pertains to the things that are most important in the individual’s respective role or position.”
Kurt is inspired by the courageous work of the individuals on the data team developed to support the implementation of Valencia’s Achieving the Dream efforts and shares that it is one the most professionally rewarding experiences of his time at Valencia.
“I saw Valencia faculty, staff, administrators and executive leadership willingly engage each other as equals before the data associated with the success of our initiatives. The people on the team came to the work from different perspectives. The meaning or implications of the data was rarely self-evident and the engagement was candid and often contentious, as we tried to figure out what was best for our students. In the end our work led to consensus, not unanimity, on the path to follow and ultimately, a deeper respect for each other as colleagues.”
Gert believes that courageous leadership is all about being willing to take risks.
“Just take a leap and do it. If it works, great! If it doesn’t, great! Learn from the failings and apply the learnings back to make a better, stronger iteration of the original idea.”
Gert exhibits her courageous leadership style by trying new things. “I’m usually pretty bold in my approach to challenges. If I ever get nervous about trying something new, I channel someone that I know is brave and I ask myself, How would they approach this? I also sometimes grab someone else to help me ‘share the scare’ so that I’m not alone.”
“It gives me immense pleasure to watch people display courage and listen to their intuition because they know they have a great idea, even when people tell them to the contrary. I am very inspired by people’s tenacity and the creativity behavior of realness to sell their idea in a most creative way.” Gert believes the most essential traits of great leadership are the ability to listen deeply, to empower and celebrate with your team.
Courageous leadership is contagious. These leaders set the example by practicing humility, patience and exhibiting an inquisitive and collaborative spirit.