Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr.
Interview Location: Orlando, Florida
Interview Date: January 8, 2018
CDM: Dr. Clayton Daniel Mote, Jr. (President, National Academy of Engineering)
ASG: Dr. Amir S. Gohardani
(President, Springs of Dreams Corporation)
ASG: Dr. Mote, thank you for agreeing to this interview with the Springs of Dreams Corporation. It is a pleasure to have you here.
CDM: Likewise, thank you.
ASG: As you are aware the United States workforce is faced with challenges in a number of engineering disciplines. Would you please shed some light on your views about the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) before we change the focal point of the interview to subjects about leadership?
CDM: Sure. STEM is static I think. Nothing about these fields is static. So, you end up with an acronym STEM which is constantly changing - all the time. And the public cannot understand the differences in STEM from one time to another. STEM 5 years ago, 10 years ago, STEM today. It is all Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics but those fields are in constant flux. And so, that is one problem with the idea of STEM. It implies a static foundation on which you can build the future. But you need to have the understanding that in fact, the foundation is in constant flux. That idea is missing.
ASG: That is an interesting observation. Could you elaborate, please?
CDM: Basically, the E in STEM is silent. No one ever mentions the word Engineering. Yes, the word technology has replaced engineering in the public lexicon. But technology is an outcome, and a very wide ranging one at that. As soon as you mention the idea of creation you are talking about engineering. You are not talking about science whose essence is discovery - creation is not discovery. So, I think that in this whole STEM mantra, engineering has gotten lost in the process. It has been replaced inappropriately in the public dialogue by the word technology.
ASG: So, in your opinion, there is a misconception involved here?
CDM: Yes. Engineering has not achieved the public visibility needed for the public to understand engineering and distinguish engineering from science. In fact, the public has no clue about what engineering is all about. The public thinks that science creates things, which is not true. Science discovers, and engineering creates solutions for people and society. Even an educated public does not understand what engineering does. All of us, industry included, need to do a better job of explaining what engineering contributes to the public and society.
ASG: Correct. Can you provide an example?
CDM: As an example, NASA rarely uses the word engineering, when in fact, literally everything the public sees from NASA are engineering creations – spacecraft, landing on comets, photographs, images, robots digging holes on Mars and things like that. That is all engineering, and great engineering at that.
ASG: It certainly seems as if more awareness is needed to adjust the misconceptions about engineering. But, how are these misconceptions created?
CDM: There are many ways. Even big companies - I can think of one which will remain nameless - a big, world-class US company that did a public survey on how it should describe itself. Initially, it called itself chemistry related company, but then chemistry became a less popular issue for the public. So, the company decided to re-evaluate what it should call itself. And they studied a number of words, including engineering. And, when they surveyed the public about the various designations, it turned out that the public really liked the word science. Note, they did not like the word engineering as much. They did not like the idea of science and engineering either. They liked science. So, the company decided that it would be a science company. Even though much of what they were doing was engineering. So, now they constantly talk about science. They are a science company doing what they have always done. I think that is the sense I get from the industry, these days.
ASG: That was an illustrative example.
CDM: Industry wants to be seen as attractive to the public, because it needs to have a good relationship with the public.
ASG: Yes, and of course to sell its products.
CDM: There are lots of reasons. I can understand why they would want to do that. But the end result is that engineering is regularly buried in the background.
ASG: Yes. But are there any exceptions?
CDM: Exxon Mobil is a company that actually talks about engineering. In fact, it has run some very powerful ads about young engineers. It had a series of ads called “Be an Engineer,” and ran a very impressive “Be an Engineer” campaign. . In fact, it startled me so much that when I first heard the ad on TV about 8:30 in the morning on Good Morning America, I was in my house and I heard these people talking about engineering on the television in the other room. I ran into the other room. To hear anyone talk about engineering on TV is rare indeed. I was enormously impressed by Exxon Mobil’s “Be an Engineer” campaign.
ASG: It is certainly relieving that there are still companies that talk about engineering. And, on that note, do you think that the Engineers Week helps to bring about that much-needed awareness or is that week mostly limited to engineers?
CDM: I think that Engineers Week feels very good to engineers. And people who are familiar with it. I am not sure it draws in people who are…
ASG: Unfamiliar to engineering?
CDM: Or, neutral and do not care that much. I think Germany and the UK are two countries I can think of that really place a high value on engineering.
ASG: Please provide some examples.
CDM: For example, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering in Britain, I do not know if you know about that.
ASG: Yes, I do.
CDM: Do you know the reason it was created?
CDM: Well, think about this for one second. When I was a postdoc in Britain, in the 1960s, the idea that the Queen would put her name on a prize for engineering was about as likely as getting hit by a comet. Britain has always prided itself on its great scientists. Darwin, Newton, Kelvin, and so on. But never on James Watt and other engineers. Engineering has always been way down in the weeds relative to science. Now, that we do know that the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering exists, why did she decide to do that? Why did the country back the one million pound prize so strongly? It was because of a shortage of engineers in Britain and the soft public image of engineering and engineers in Britain. They want to change the understanding among young people about the attractiveness of engineering careers and an engineering future for the benefit of the country.
ASG: That is a noteworthy measure.
CDM: The country needed it. That is a demonstration of an understanding that is taking hold in Britain about the importance of engineering in a country that has been a leader in engineering for centuries.
ASG: Yes, truly, so.
CDM: It is going to require more people who are willing to speak up for engineering. Think about the field of applied science. What is applied science? It is a conflict of terms.
ASG: In what sense?
CDM: It is basically engineering, but it is only a limited aspect of engineering. It is not close to all of engineering. The other part of the picture that confuses the public is the differences between science, engineering, entrepreneurship, invention, and innovation. These activities are precisely defined. They are not fuzzy.
CDM: But the people: scientist, engineer, innovator, inventor, entrepreneur, they are all self-identified. Each person decides who he or she is. Many people do all these things, as a matter of fact. Then they decide what they want to be called. So, the public tends to think that the job and the person go together. Well, plumbers do plumbing. Engineers do engineering. Scientists do science. That is not close to correct.
ASG: That is a very important point.
CDM: There are highly multidisciplinary activities going on. They are many people who are doing all of these things. You cannot tell. In fact, if you go to a professional meeting, here for example, and someone is presenting a talk, most of the time, you cannot predict what department that person is from based on the topic. Is it a life science department, engineering department, physics department? You cannot tell. That is the way it is today. So, very multidisciplinary, very big thinking. And, that is how all of these big problems are today. They are nearly all multidisciplinary.
ASG: I agree with you. I found this short excursion into STEM subjects quite fascinating. Now, let us move on to the subject of leadership. Would you like to tell me a little about yourself, your background? It would be interesting if we can learn more about your biography before we dive into the leadership questions I have for you.
CDM: Sure. Well, I am a California person. I was born in San Francisco. I grew up in the Bay Area, in a little town north of San Francisco. I went to Berkeley as a mechanical engineering undergraduate student when I was 18 years old and I received my undergraduate degree, Master’s and Ph.D. at Berkeley also. I went to England for a year and then I went to Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh for three years after that for my first professional job. Then I returned to the faculty at Berkeley and stayed on the faculty for over 30 years. I had a very good time there. I had a research lab of ~15 Ph.D. students and so forth. I love Berkeley, actually. I never thought I would leave. But then in 1998, and I was the Vice-Chancellor at Berkeley at the time, and I had this interesting opportunity to become the President of the University of Maryland. And, it just came out of the sky. I did not apply for the job, and I never thought I would take the position since I had never been to the state before. I did not know anybody in the state. But when I met with a group there who were so excited about improving the university, and they expressed frustration that the university had not advanced as much as they thought it should have. It was pretty easy to see how to do it. It was not complicated. The University of Maryland is surrounded by great unfair advantages. Unfair advantages are advantages that you have, and other people do not have, and they cannot get.
ASG: Please tell me more about the unfair advantages.
CDM: The University of Maryland is surrounded by them. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, 5 minutes away, NIH, FDA, Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, White House, 8 miles away. 50 federal laboratories in the state of Maryland. All of these organizations need the university, especially a big research university that has a strong science and engineering-oriented focus. And of course, the intelligence communities, the military communities, all that surrounded the university. It was pretty easy to see what to do. So, it was all about connecting with these organizations. I actually did not apply for the job. I explained to the group from the university that I was counseling what they needed to do to advance the university. And, they ended up offering me the job. I was the President of the University of Maryland from 1998 to 2010, a dozen years. I am still on the faculty there. I had a great time. It was a wonderful experience. People were a little worried about what this guy from California was going to do to them. But they came around very well, and we had a very good relationship. And, the university got behind the agenda, very enthusiastically and improved all of its numbers, all of its recognitions, and its achievements. It improved greatly. We recognized three Nobel Laureates during this period, for example.
CDM: We increased faculty research by 150%, tripled the number of students who would study abroad. The University of Maryland ended up ranked 30th in the world on a ranking of universities overall, and 13th in engineering, up from 70-something, originally.
ASG: These are significant improvements, so many congratulations on your achievements at the University of Maryland. Shall we turn the lens on the National Academy of Engineering?
ASG: Great! Please tell me about your interactions with the National Academy of Engineering.
CDM: I have been a long-time member of the National Academy of Engineering, about 30 years. And, I served as a member of the council of the Academy, then the treasurer and I was elected the President of the Academy in 2013, when I started a six-year term. This is also a very interesting position. It is a national, global platform. It is a rather small organization in many ways. But it has a very big reach and a very big voice.
ASG: Yes. Certainly.
CDM: People are always interested in knowing what the Academy thinks about various things. And, internationally, the Academy is very highly recognized. The other academies around the world, look to the National Academy of Engineering as a leader-organization for the world’s engineering academies. It is an interesting singular, responsibility. But it is a very small organization, actually. You would be surprised how small it is. The whole National Academy of Engineering itself has about 30-40 staff. That is it.
ASG: Wow! Can you briefly tell me about the history of the Academy?
CDM: There are three National Academies: Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Abraham Lincoln created the NAS in 1863, because he was frustrated that he could not get any credible, reliable information from his own government. It was conflicted by self-interest. Information from industry was also biased by self-interest. So, he needed and wanted to have a body of experts who could advise any department of government, but it could not be part of government and, it could not be funded by the government either. He realized if it were funded by the government, it would be conflicted like the rest of government. Therefore, it had to be an independent group. So, it is a very strange design. Created by the government, to advise the government, but entirely independent of the government.
ASG: Please tell me about the values of the Academy.
CDM: The Academy has two values which are extremely important. In fact, only two values stand out. One value is that the Academy has tremendous, convening power. When the Academy asks people to participate in something, they always say yes. From anywhere in the world. They say yes. Because, I believe, it is a great credit to the professional reputation and capabilities of a person to be asked by the Academy to participate in an activity.
ASG: That is understandable.
CDM: So, this convening power is also…people like to be associated with it because the Academy does things that have high repute. People like to be associated with an organization like this. So, convening power is very important. That means when the Academy takes on a study for organization, the sponsor of the study knows that the Academy can get the best people to work on it. Almost no one else can guarantee that.
ASG: Yes. It is unique.
CDM: So, the second thing that the Academy has is also critically important. It has trusted reports. Its reports are free of biases, free of self-interest and are based on justifiable, fact-based information. They are not based on opinions and here say in some way. They are written carefully. You never say “this is the worst idea I have ever heard of”. You might say, “The preponderance of the evidence that is available does not support this point of view.” So, the reports are written in a very neutral way, and according to Lincoln’s expectation, the reports are counsel for all sides of an issue. So, all sides of an issue can get information from these reports. The reports do not advocate for a particular policy outcome. They do not make policy, rather they advise policy makers. As soon as you become an advocate for an outcome, you are no longer an advisor on an issue. You become an advocate, a lobbyist.
ASG: Right. You need to remain unbiased.
CDM: Yes. Once you cross that bridge, it is game over for you as an advisor. You have lost your whole reason for participating on an advisory committee. So, you have to be very, very careful to avoid stepping over this line separating the advisor from the advocate. Because most people, of course, have their own points of view about what should be the outcome. So, you have to suppress your biases and base all your findings and all your recommendations on the reliable, published information that is available, and not your idea of what the outcome should be. So those two things: trusted reports for all sides of issues and the convening power are the two power bases of the Academy. And, all of the Academy’s value is derived from those two special qualities.
ASG: Thank you for the in-depth view you have shared with me about the Academy. In light of your career advancements, it is rather apparent that leadership has had a very prominent role in your life.
ASG: Do you believe that leaders are born, or can leaders be made?
CDM: Of course, leaders are not born. First of all, think about this for a second. All organizations in the world, both formal and informal organizations like two fellows who have coffee every Friday – that is an informal organization. And then organizations of all kinds of scales, like IBM and countries, and in fact, if you sat down and wrote down for yourself, every organization that you belong to, you would be amazed at the number. It would be at least 20 or 30. Church groups, and family, and this and that. All organizations, formal or informal, share two characteristics. Every organization has: leadership and culture.
CDM: And, the cultures of organizations that you belong to can be very different from one organization to the other. Your family’s culture is different than your business culture which is different than your non-profit culture and so forth. I am certain.
ASG: Yes, without a shred of a doubt.
CDM: So, the leadership of the culture depends on the needs of the culture. So, the leadership can vary tremendously from culture to culture, in fact, it does. So, good leaders are those who can see the type of leadership that is needed for a particular culture for this organization. Whatever this is. So, good leaders…and there is a whole range of leadership issues, vary from very low-level and assertive, coercive leadership, which is the weakest form of leadership actually…to visionary forward-looking leadership, which attracts people by a vision that people adopt for themselves. A visionary that really inspires people. All movements are created this way, religions are created this way. They bring in people who adopt an idea that the leader is projecting and why it is important. And, they buy into it, for themselves. And they become proselytes for this idea, and then they spread it to others, who spread it to others, who spread it to others and so forth. That is the most powerful form of leadership. So, there are huge ranges of leadership. Some people can span this whole list of types of leadership by the way. From inspirational leaders, expert leaders who become leaders because people believe they know their strength of content…
ASG: Yes. There are many examples of those.
CDM: …whether they do or not is another question. But they believe they know.
CDM: Then you have, what you might call positional leadership where leadership goes along with a position in an organization, which is often, if not generally, weak. The mother in a family has a positional leadership role, the department chairman, President of a University, the President of the Academy are positional leadership roles.
ASG: Yes, they are.
CDM: In addition to inspirational leaders and expert leaders, there is quid pro quo leadership, where “you do this for me, and I will do something for you” that is like compromises in a political process. It is not leadership, but deal making. So, all of these are things you need to do now and then if you have to get something done. So…and to answer your original question, no, leaders are not born. However, you are born with certain personal qualities…, and you learn some behaviors and understandings and the ability to have humanistic instincts and humanistic values. How to communicate with people, so, they not only understand what you say but they trust what you say. Trust is everything. No trust, nothing good can happen without trust. So, people have to trust the leader. You need to say what you are going to do and do what you are going to say. And, people will evaluate you by what you do. More than what you say.
ASG: *Laughter* Yes, because you can say all kinds of things.
CDM: *Laughter* Yes, and the more conflict you have between what you say and what you do, the less trust you have. Right?
CDM: That is a bad outcome. You need to develop trust, not just with the senior people, but with everybody in the organization. I mean like everybody in the organization. Let me tell you a quick story.
ASG: Please, do.
CDM: As I said, University of Maryland is a fairly big place with 37,000 students, 10,000 faculty and staff. You know a bunch of people are in this place. I set about to basically transform the university when I got there. I quit my job in California, because of this opportunity to move the whole university to a different level. That is why I took the job. As I said I did not know anybody there. But I could see that it had many unfair advantages that were fairly easily obtainable.
ASG: Yes. I find it interesting that you could identify the dormant opportunities early on.
CDM: At least I knew what to do. A good direction may not be easy, but at least you know which way you want to go. Near my last day as the President, about 7:30 in the morning, I was walking across campus at the end of April. There was still some ice and snow on the ground. I was going to meet some faculty members to talk about various things. And, as I walked by one of the grounds keepers, he had hat, gloves, and shovel, so on, and he was knocking ice off the sidewalk. And, as I walked by him, he said to me thank you. Just like that. I stopped of course. I went back. He took off his gloves and we shook hands. And, he said to me: I have been working on this campus for 35 years and these last years have been the greatest time for me and all people on the grounds crews, to be part of the team transforming the university, the way it has transformed, it just has been a great thrill for us. We have loved this opportunity. We want to thank you for it.
ASG: You must have been delighted to hear him say those words.
CDM: Yes. I thanked him profusely for this. I told him that what he said was the nicest thing he could ever say to me. Because it reflected what the guys at the bottom-end of the pyramid, knocking the ice off the sidewalk thought, how they felt to be a part of the organization that was going through this transformation. They felt part of the team. You know everybody wants to be on the team. The leader’s responsibility is to put everybody on the team. You should not shut people out of the team, but bring them into the team. You want to make them feel that they are part of the team that is moving this institution in some direction. In a positive direction. So, everybody can get satisfaction about seeing it progress. And they feel like they have a role in it. They are not shut out of it. And, that should be from the lowest-level person to the highest-level person. So, when he said that to me, I mean I cannot tell you, I just melted on the spot. Because that meant that at least for this very large group of staff, they felt this. That is about as good as it gets.
CDM: And, you have to do that by what you say. It is not hard to do. What you say and what you do and what you thank them for. Have a little celebration when things go well. Thank them for doing this and for doing that. And, how much impact it had on what was going on when people came to the campus and things like that. And, it is all true by the way. So, you are not lying to them. You are just taking the time to reflect on it with them. Recognize them and thank them for it. And, next time they work harder, so everything moves better. Everybody does a better job than before and anybody who visits the organization can feel it.
ASG: Yes. So, successful leadership is an all-inclusive movement?
CDM: Yes, those who are led can feel it. I remember I was told once by a former CEO of General Motors, long time ago in the 1970s a person with a million employees about the evaluation of managers. I remember one specific time when I asked him: How do you evaluate these various plant managers? His response was: It is really easy. No problem. I can do that in about half an hour. I said: Really? How do you do that? He said: Well, I start at one end of the plant with the plant manager and we walk through the plant to the other end of the plant. And, by the time I get to the other end of the plant, I know how everything is going. How he responds to people and how they respond to him. The body language between them. The commonality, the core, the sense of being on the same team, sense of feeling respected. He said: You can pick up all this information of how good of a job the plant manager is doing. Well, it is pretty much true of all organizations. This human issue cannot be suppressed and put into a number that runs in the background. And a lot of this has to do with the leader. What the leader projects. Because when the leader projects certain kinds of behaviors or expectations, well the people under that leader will also do the same thing. They will follow the lead. They do not want to be in conflict with the leader. Then, others will do the same. So, you can propagate this spirit throughout the organization. And, I think it is extremely important to do. Because it is all about people. It is all about getting people on the team.
ASG: Right. And, that is where they want to be, to begin with.
CDM: *Laughter*Yes. They want to be there. Everybody wants to be on the winning team. You know when the football team from your community goes to the Super Bowl, everybody in the community is a fan of that football team. They all want to be on that team. It is the same idea. It is a human idea.
ASG: Right. So, as a leader has a specific person or individual inspired you?
CDM: Well, there are a number of people I think. And you read about people’s careers. Probably the most impressive leader, possibly in history would be Abraham Lincoln. If you read about the state of the country when Lincoln was elected president, his preparation for being the president of the country in a time of the Civil War, in the beginning of the Civil War, he was so unprepared in a formal sense. He had only had one term in Congress. He was not highly respected in Congress at all. In fact, the former president who left before him declared that he was to be the last president of the United States. He had not prepared for a war. They had just given up the South. And, it was Lincoln who said no, by himself. He said no. But he had no foundation of people around him, he had no organization, so he had to take on the whole thing. It looks highly improbable that one could actually do that. So, I think he was a very inspirational leader. But, there are others. I had a colleague I worked with. A former chancellor of Berkeley. He and I were both in mechanical engineering at Berkeley. His name was Chang-Lin Tien. And, he was the first Asian elected a major university president in the United States. He was a chancellor, a president’s equivalent. So, he was chancellor at Berkeley. Therefore the Asian community was very excited about him being there. He was very ambitious. Very capable. He always wanted to be youngest, fastest, most qualified in everything. And, he had some challenges…the more traditional alumni of the university would wonder how this Asian fellow was going to support things they are interested in, like the football team…and things like that. So, he figured out all of this stuff in advance. He identified in advance areas where people would be worried about him. And then devised a strategy how he would close that anxiety down immediately.
ASG: That was smart.
CDM: Yes, and, he executed that strategy. I thought his perceptions about where he had to press to bring people on board, to bring people on the team, you might say, were very clear. I thought his understanding of the problem was, and his response to it, were exceptional. So, leaders can see the future. They can think about what they would do and how it is going to affect their relationship in building the community they need to build, as well. So, you know excellent leaders always have to have a vision. If there is no vision, there is no leadership, basically. Because you need to sell your vision constantly. And, the vision has to be the same vision for everybody. You cannot have one vision for this group and another vision for this group and another vision for that group. That becomes known instantly. Then people realize you are a sham, a salesperson with no foundation. You are a weak empty suit, words without substance. More or less, terrible.
ASG: It is indeed.
CDM: No one really wants to commit much to a person like that because you cannot trust them. Trust is everything.
ASG: Excellent. You actually answered my other question, namely if somebody wants to get into leadership…so I guess these are the pieces of advice you would give: Trust is everything, do what you say you will do…
CDM: Yes, have vision. No vision, no progress. You need to be able to talk about where you want to go. Everybody sells a future. Churches sell a future. The stock market sells a future. Real estate sells a future. Everybody sells a future. A leader sells a future too.
Because people want to know where they are going. They want somebody to take them somewhere. They want to be part of something. They want to go somewhere. So, you need to have some idea where that is. And, then project that vision. Without a vision, you cannot be much of a leader. You essentially become a manager. Managers essentially run the store. They make the trains run on time. Leaders tell you where the train is going to go. And, how far and so on. So, the leader’s job is really the vision piece. Most of the time. Unless the organization does not want a leader. It just wants a manager. That is another leadership question. So, the organization that only wants a manager is happy with a manager.
CDM: That is why you need to understand the organization that you are being asked to lead before you can decide whether your qualifications are well-suited for that job. If you want to be a leader, a visionary who is going to transform an organization and the organization does not want to be transformed, it just wants to be run, then you do not want that job. You are not suited for that job.
ASG: This goes along with what you said about understanding the culture. Right?
CDM: Yes. So, ideally, if an organization is looking for a leader and you might want to consider that position, you need to understand the organization well. Ideally, understand its culture, where it is going, what its needs are, what it thinks its needs are, and then what its needs actually are. You need to have that picture. Then you ask yourself whether you have the qualifications and the interest to undertake that position. And, you are looking for a match there as well.
ASG: Yes. So, another question I have for you is how you go about conflict resolution within a leadership effort - say you are trying to lead this specific organization in a certain direction and you meet resistance. Is there anything you can say broadly about what to do when you are running into trouble? Imagine that the change you have envisioned is not taking place. What kind of measures do you take?
CDM: Well, you need to have some support, a relatively small support group who can help guide you and advise you on situations like this. These are generally people who are respected, trustworthy, and have signed up for your vision and for where you want to go. They are in synch with your thinking and they have some influence in communities outside of your closest communities. So, they essentially can influence others as well. When conflicts start to arise, which they always do, you have to evaluate these conflicts. Are they an outliner conflict of some kind, where someone is dissatisfied with his circumstances, or is it actually, a broader movement, where a large segment of your organization is willing to take a position against where you are going. Right?
CDM: And, you have to develop a strategy for how you are going to meet that group. Generally, speaking at some point along the line you need to meet with the group. And, you have to talk about where you think you ought to go and why and why you cannot follow up on the particular direction they wish to follow at this time. But, most of the time, what you want to do is to give the group a chance to make progress on what it wants to do. You do not want to say no to the group. You do not want to just cut them off. That is surely not a good idea. You want to provide an out for them, so they can move forward in some way and be co-opted to your mission at the same time. So, I think, basically, it is being honest and straight-forward with the group. Why you must do certain things, but then how they can also get some things done that they want to get done. It is important to give people some way to save face and get some of what they need, as well. When I first became President of the University of Maryland, the university had the worst idea for developing a university,that I could think of. Even to this day, I cannot think of a worse idea. It essentially reviewed all its programs at the university, about 90+, and they put each of them into one of three piles. There was a good-and-can-get-better pile, there was a good-and-probably-cannot-get-much-better pile, and there was a not good-and-will-not-get-better pile. About a third, a third, a third, roughly. Then they published these three groups of departments by name in the newspaper. In the campus newspaper.
ASG: Oh, wow!
CDM: Then the university told everybody what pile they were in. And, it also said that the limited available support for advancement was going largely to the first pile, because it wanted to use the support effectively. That was possibly the worst idea ever for developing a university. On my first day as a president, I threw the whole thing out. I said no. Even though they spent two years putting these things together. I said no, we are not implementing this plan. On the contrary, I said I expect every program on the campus to be excellent.
ASG: Right. You essentially changed the original vision to something new.
CDM: Yes, I communicated that I expected every program on the campus to be excellent. Every one of them. And, I told them that if you feel that you are not quite excellent yet, I want a plan for how you are going to be excellent. What you are going to put into it. What do you want the university to put into it? Time and schedule, and let us get going. So, I immediately got a couple of people who came to see me, and they said: Oh we cannot be excellent, we have been disadvantaged for so long and this and that. I said: Look you are telling me that you cannot be excellent. If you tell me you cannot be excellent, I am asking you why are you here?
ASG: It was a valid question.
CDM: I asked them: Is it fair to the students? Is it fair to the faculty? Your own faculty? Is it fair to the state? Who wins here? Nobody wins. There are lots of other university programs in your field that are excellent and we should send the students there if you are not going to be excellent. And, then they would say, Ok. And they would go away. But, I found after about two of those discussions that people stopped coming to me to say we cannot be excellent. Instead, they put their time and effort into how they are going to be excellent. So, you have to give them a way out and up. A way forward.
ASG: Excellent! Regretfully, we have arrived at my last question. So, I would like to ask you this question and then maybe we can do a short summary.
ASG: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
CDM: Well, the biggest challenge is always to fulfill the expectations of everybody of course. It is a general statement. But, I think the biggest challenge certainly from my perspective is getting, or crafting a powerful vision for where you are going. The vision, the destination, has to bring everybody in. It has to inspire everybody about where you need to go. You cannot push people out. If your vision statement pushes part of your community out, they will not support it and you will have created a serious problem. So, the vision has to encompass everybody. And, the biggest challenge is to be able to do that. To have a vision that actually encompasses everybody, and moves the institution forward at the same time. And, most leaders do not have encompassing visions. Most leaders are afraid to have a grand vision because of the likelihood that it cannot be achieved fully. They prefer to keep their head down and not get into trouble. See, if you have no vision, you may not do anything, but you will not get into trouble. You only get in trouble when you have a vision because that is something people can criticize, constrains you and you may not accomplish.
CDM: So, the general pressure is not to have a vision, so no one can attack you. You are not doing very much, which is true. But no one can attack you because you are not failing. So, the biggest challenge for a leader is to have a powerful vision that everybody in your community and in this organization, buys into. And, this community, let us say if you are talking about a university for example, it is not just the students, the faculty, and the staff, it is the parents, it is the alumni, it is the local community, there are lots of people around the university that are part of the university community. They are a part of the organization. So, it is a big bunch. A big bunch of people. So, to create a vision that many people would think is a good idea is…
ASG: …is challenging…
CDM: …is challenging. Yes. And, then following up on it. And, by the way, once you establish a vision, you cannot change it.
CDM: You cannot change the vision. The reason is that the vision is going to be different to some extent from what people are currently doing. When they say ok and buy into this new vision, they stop doing what they were doing, and they adopt the new vision direction. They start working on it. And, you are providing resources, inspiration and so forth. Then, if you should change the vision substantially, they say, “I already changed once, now they want me to change again.” And, they would say no and moreover conclude that “This guy does not know where we are going and this is not effective thinking and planning. I am not going there.” They will pull out, will do nothing and will not be recruitable. You will have blown it, so to speak.
ASG: Yes. You will lose your credibility.
CDM: Yes, even more than your credibility, your leadership is lost. You cannot change your vision once you have established it. That is a hard part also. You need to have enough range in your vision that you can adapt it …while still staying with it, for a long period of time.
ASG: It makes sense.
CDM: And, have check-offs on progress constantly. Celebrate achieved progress on the vision. And, using the progress to inspire more people to participate and bring onboard. And, create a momentum. You want to create a momentum toward where you are going for it attracts more supporters when you demonstrate the vision is achievable. And, that is all there is to it.
ASG: Excellent Dr. Mote. Thank you so much. I truly appreciate the time. This is great. This was very rewarding. Thank you kindly.