Leadership is not just about leading with our heads. It is not just about strategizing, planning and problem solving. It is also about leading with our hearts. Great leaders are those who have a strong sense of purpose, character and passion. Their courage and commitment helps others be their best. John Quincy Adams is attributed with the quote, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” We all have that potential, but we have to examine our motivations for leading. Is our leadership about others or us?
I recently visited Dr. Reginald Nichols, president of The Piney Woods School, who is one of those leaders who leads both with his head and his heart. The Piney Woods School is one of Mississippi’s hidden gems. The quote on the home page of its website states, “At The Piney Woods School, we are changing the world, one student at a time.” For over 100 years, the school has been doing just that. Students from around the world come to The Piney Woods School and go on to higher education and careers that are impacting the world. Dr. Nichols, the school’s fourth president, brings a wealth of experience, and most importantly a servant heart, to the job.
Dr. Nichols was born in Belgium and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He received his undergraduate degree from Gordon College, his masters in divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and his doctorate in education from the University of San Francisco. His extensive experience includes being president of Fellowship Academy in San Francisco and serving as adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco. He also served as head of school at St. Thomas Episcopal School in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Nichols also served as president of Diamond Consulting Group where he consulted with organizations around the country on strategic planning, team building, and professional development. He gained a global perspective while serving as a fellow for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s International Leadership Program where he worked with various communities in southern Africa, Latin America and the U.S. in the areas of sustainable development, collaborative networks, leadership development, strategic planning and diversity.
In our discussion, Dr. Nichols shared that he encourages leaders to “look at life as a journey as opposed to a destination.” He teaches others to appreciate the journey. To him, leadership is about service. He continually challenges leaders to consider how they can make an impact on the lives of others. He points outs that we are only on this planet for a brief period, so we should carefully consider how to make an impact for good during our time here. He noted, “Leadership is about others and not us. We need to consider how we will make a difference in the world.” Dr. Nichols reminded me of the Robert F. Kennedy quote, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. It all begins with one ripple of hope.”
To be a leader who makes impact, we have to learn to lead ourselves before we lead others. As Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world” Dr. Nichols believes that we should strive each day to be our best and to make a difference. I came away from my conversation with Dr. Nichols inspired and encouraged. I also recognized the true importance of the heart of a leader and the impact that those type leaders have on organizations. Leaders with heart have a ripple effect of their lives and make a difference one person at a time.
Up Close With Dr. Reginald Nichols
Title: President, Piney Woods School
Favorite Books: “I particularly enjoy books by John Maxwell, Max Lucado and Henri Nouwen. Two specific books, which have had an impact on me, are Dare to Dream (John Maxwell) and The Wounded Healer (Henri Nouwen).”
First Job: “I started working at a bakery at age 13 as a cashier. It meant a lot to me that I was entrusted with this responsibility at such a young age. ”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “I really love seeing the impact of leadership in young people’s lives and seeing students I have known over the years who have gone on to impact the world.”