Not long ago I had the good experience of listening to Adam Weinberg, president of Denison University address parents and families of current students. He delivered prepared remarks for about 15 minutes (no powerpoint) and he spent another 45 minutes addressing questions from the audience.
Here are 3 things president Weinberg said that struck me:
1. He doesn’t have all the answers. A parent asked how Denison handles issues of free speech. He began his response to this admittedly thorny issue, by saying the following:
“First, I know I don’t have all the answers. We work hard at Denison to educate students from a perspective of intellectual humility. I believe a significant component of working through free speech issues is to embrace the notion that my perspective is not the only perspective and there is something I can learn from someone else’s perspective.”
2. He hasn’t even thought about all the questions. A parent asked about how to increase “school spirit” on campus and president Weinberg began his response as follows:
“I probably haven’t thought about that question as deeply as I should. . .”
3. He understands his role. Another parent asked about strategic priorities for Denison over the next 3-5 years. After talking about key academic program enhancements, the growth of a program to make liberal arts skills and aptitudes cornerstone attributes of professional and lifelong preparation, and new capital improvements, he said that following:
“We have a number of opportunities to better the experience of our students. My job isn’t to dream up more opportunities. My job is to gain agreement with our faculty, our staff, our students, and with our donors on which of those opportunities offer the very best hope of making Denison the best we can be. And, then, my job is to remind people, consistently and over time, of those plans and goals.”
In a world where the concept of leadership can be contorted into a strongman (or woman) persona, it was almost jarring to listen as a leader shared a sense of humility, a learning disposition, and an understanding of his role as catalyst and encourager.
But it was effective because there was an ease, an authenticity, and, yes, a degree of confidence that also was communicated.
And others must have felt the same.
The large crowd stood and applauded him for at least a full minute as he concluded his remarks.