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AAL Newsletter

The Book that Changed My Life as a Leader

Dr. Hershey Bell

Hershey S. Bell, MD, MS, FAAFP

Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean, LECOM School of Pharmacy

Senior Consultant, AAL

In the 1990s I studied with a group of professionals examining the factors that accounted for success, which we defined as “achieving desired outcomes.”  The group leader introduced me to the bookMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  I read the book in one night and have since read it many times over. I often recommend it to my coaching clients who are looking for added insight into the dynamics of personal responsibility.

Men's Searching for Meaning

Frankl was a Jewish-Austrian neurologist/psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.   He was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in late 1944.  Frankl lost his wife, his mother and his brother during the Holocaust. He was liberated from Turhkeim (affiliated with Dachau) in April 1945.  During his confinement, Frankl realized that one of the starkest contrasts between him and his captors was that while they had freedom (they could come and go as they pleased, for example), they did not have liberty (the right to choose their thoughts).  On the other hand, while Frankl and his co-captives were stripped of their freedoms, they continued to have access to liberty; that is, they could continue to think as they chose.   From this realization he concluded that all life, even a life of suffering, can have meaning.

Following his liberation, Frankl went on to work with Holocaust survivors utilizing logotherapy and existential analysis.  This approach, described as the “will to meaning,” is considered the third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. To Frankl (and Irvin Yalom, a disciple) “the lack of meaning is the paramount existential stress” and is manifest by feelings of meaninglessness, boredom, cynicism, a lack of direction and a questioning of the point to most of life’s activities.

In my work as a dean and as a consultant, I often frame faculty and client concerns into a question of meaningfulness.  Questions such as “Where is your passion?” and “What would you be doing with your life if money and security were not an issue?” offer insight into meaning.  The skill that underlies success, in my opinion, is connecting meaningfulness with organizational vision and mission.  Those who figure out how to wed their passions to organizational aspirations preserve personal and organizational integrity.

My colleagues Dan Sontheimer, Bill Braun and Stanley Kozakowski helped me develop the “Commitment Compass”TM which is a tool that connects individual passions to life work (occupation, parenting, marriage, community, etc.).  For me, the phrase “inspirational teacher” captures my connection.  When I reflect on my life, it is clear that a direct and profound correlation exists between being an “inspirational teacher” and generating success.  I was reminded of my influence when my son, as a teenager, announced one day, “You know dad, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life!”

 

Dr. Clyde Evans

Clyde Evans, Ph.D.

President, CE Consulting

Senior Consultant, AAL

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is noteworthy not for its intellectual sophistication or its groundbreaking insights, but for its simplicity and power.  In plain terms and a reader-friendly format, this short book gets directly to the heart of why people work together well or poorly and, by implication, what good leaders must cultivate and nurture at all costs.The Five Dysfunctions that must be avoided for success (in rank order priority) are lack of trust, fear of conflict tolerance, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

The Five Dysfunctions

Operating according to these principles requires a high level of emotional intelligence, which is always advantageous and increases the social capital of any organization. Besides presenting the fundamental concepts, this book provides tools, assessments, exercises, practical guidance and real-life examples to help readers move in the right direction.  Although the book is about high performing teams rather than leadership per se, I have found that striving to create and sustain a culture that reflects these principles has enhanced my own leadership skills tremendously.

 

Dr. Judith Albino

 

Judith Albino, Ph.D.

Associate Dean for Strategic Planning and Development, Colorado School of Public Health

Senior Consultant, AAL

My choice for the “book that has changed my life as a leader” is not a “leadership book,” but a novel.  Moreover, it was written not by a novelist, but by a Russian esotericist/philosopher.  I’ve read, “Strange Life of Ivan Osokin,” many times over the past 40 years.  I have noticed that it is neither particularly well written, nor as wholly enlightening as it seemed when I was younger.

Strange Life of Ivan Osokin

Nonetheless, the simple message that I take away could not be presented in a more compelling fashion.  Osokin is the Faustian tale of a Russian man who is given the opportunity to relive his life — specifically for the purpose of making different decisions than those he now laments – particularly some big decisions with regard to career, life partner, etc.  Restoring memories at the end of both his lives, he puzzles that he repeated exactly the same decisions – even knowing that he was there to do the opposite.  He ultimately comes to the realization that we make the only decisions we can.  Rather than simply categorizing this outcome as the phenomenon of eternal recurrence, I prefer the following lesson:  there are no BIG DECISIONS.  There are only small decisions — usually unconscious, about the way we choose to interpret our experiences and the way we live our lives — and those small decisions irrevocably shape the so-called big decisions that we make.

 

Dr. Rory Hume

W. Rory Hume, D.D.S., Ph.D., D.D.S.c  

Executive Director of Education, Training and Development, The Qatar Foundation

* Dr. Hume will join AAL as Senior Consultant in Fall 2014

For me, the book was “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  A friend at UCLA gave it to me shortly before I became the executive vice chancellor there, the campus provost.  I had been dean of dentistry, and the shift in both the size and scope of responsibilities seemed enormous.  I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the challenge, but I was very interested in how best to approach adding value to the institution as a whole through what I would be doing. I talked to people that I trusted about the challenge for a few weeks just before I took up the position.  Mike Phelps, a prime inventor and the co-creator of the PET scan, recommended the book and gave me a copy.

The book is about institution-building, and the role of leaders in defining what institutions want to become, and then acting to facilitate the necessary changes to realize the ambition.  Some words in that sentence became, to me, the key for many activities; getting the right groups of people in the institution to ask, “What do we want to become?” and moving forward from there.

Good to Great

The guidance that the book provided gave structure to what was, in most senses, a comprehensive strategic planning activity for the campus that ran for several years.  People developed very clear ideas about what was most important, what their priorities were, and we acted accordingly.  All of the indicators showed that it was an effective thing to do. Student satisfaction was already good, but it improved; research productivity improved as well.  So did fundraising, by almost all of the major units, and the campus as a whole.

The philanthropic results were spectacular, and I believe firmly that that was because department chairs and deans became personally convinced of what the value of their units were, and very practiced at articulating that value to others.  When we couldn’t provide all of the necessary resources from inside people knew what to ask for, and how best to explain their goals and needs.

“Good to Great” was written about for-profit companies, not universities.  Jim Collins also published a book about non-profits, highlighting some differences, but to me the core principle is the same.  The first thing is to work out where you want to go, with the people who will go there with you.  Then you can decide how best to get there.

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