Inspired by a vision
by Martin Willoughby
Published: May 15,2011
Parrott has view of education to lead Mississippi ahead
What have you done for me lately?” Unfortunately, the attitude behind this question reflects our current cultural expectations. Technology advances and an insatiable desire for real time change have created a pressure cooker environment for today’s leaders. In the corporate world, a segment of noisy analysts and financial traders narrowly focus on quarterly results. However, while short-term performance is important, it is the ability to sustain and improve year after year that reveals the true health of an organization. The false pressure to show short-term results can lead to disastrous results (e.g. Tyco, Worldcom). The antidote for this type of toxic leadership is to take a long-term perspective.
Dr. Roger Parrott, president of Belhaven University, is this type of leader. In fact, he has written a book on this topic titled “The Longview,” which is available at major booksellers. Dr. Parrott is a third-generation college president and was one of America’s youngest college presidents when he was elected at age 34 of Sterling College. He earned his undergraduate degree at Eastern Nazarene College in Boston where his father was president and his master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. He has served for 16 years as the 10th president of Belhaven. Dr. Parrott practices what he teaches, and during his tenure, Belhaven has made tremendous strides.
When he arrived, the university was facing challenging times. The board and Dr. Parrott began the transformation by recommitting the institution to its Christian values. Dr. Parrott also noted, “We try to be innovative in bringing education to our students.” Today, Belhaven has over 3,500 students across its six campuses in Jackson, Houston, Memphis, Orlando, Chattanooga and Atlanta. It is also well known for its adult education and online programs, and Belhaven is one of only 30 schools in the country to be nationally accredited in all four of the arts — dance, music, theatre and visual arts.
I was curious about his “longview” perspective, and how he applied this philosophy at Belhaven. He shared an example that when he first started, the school was facing budget problems. The fountain at the entrance of the school was broken and dried up. It was a substantial expense to fix it and there were certainly competing short-term priorities for the money; however, he had this fixed because it was very important for the long term for the entrance to the college to reflect a positive light. It takes courage to have that kind of leadership. You have to be able to withstand criticism from short-term thinkers.
Dr. Parrott also shared some of the key ways that leaders can adopt a longview. Leaders should lead as if they will be in their job forever. In our transient business culture today, this is a real paradigm shift. It is easy to say, “That won’t be my problem to deal with,” unless you adopt this important mindset. He also shared his practice of hiring for people and not for jobs. In other words, he hires talented people and then applies their gifts and skills in productive ways. Dr. Parrott also advocates that leaders should empower their teams and share the credit. As he notes, “Applause lasts for a moment, but leadership is for a lifetime.” In his book, he shares about the importance of keeping an eye on the horizon as well as the rearview mirror. According to Dr. Parrot, “Leaders must develop a leadership lifestyle that strengthens their ability to discover what is over the horizon, beyond what others see, while also keeping a careful eye on the gifts and lessons left gleaming in the path behind.” In order to get buy-in as a long-view leader, it’s important for the stakeholders to clearly understand the vision of the organization. This takes time, intentionality, and repetition to make sure the vision is clearly understood.
I left my visit with Dr. Parrott inspired by his own leadership and vision, and proud of Belhaven University as another great resource for this state. With over 75 percent of the students at the Jackson campus coming from out of state, others are realizing something special is going on, as well. We all could benefit from a better long-view perspective as leaders, and I appreciate Dr. Parrott’s own conviction and courage to be a model of long-view leadership.
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