|Get to know the man and the professional: A personal essay|
By Dr. Charles P. Bird
There are two personal characteristics and commitments that are central to who I am and how I approach my work.
First, in the language of strengths-based leadership, I am a learner and connector. I’ve often expressed this by saying that I am a “collector of experiences.” I love to learn new things, to wrestle with new ideas, and to find connections between those ideas that can help me understand and make positive use of the information.
Second, I am a teacher. Whether in a classroom, in a workshop for administrators, working as a consultant, coaching/mentoring individuals, writing an article or essay, or delivering an after-dinner speech, for me it is about encouraging insight and understanding. Thinking of myself as a teacher, at my core, definitely drives my choices of professional activities.
My professional career, of course, has been in higher education, although I have done some consulting and many management development programs for business. As a full-time faculty member for 12 years, I engaged in teaching and research that was mainstream, for its time.
Originally educated as a laboratory researcher in human memory, in the early 1980s I made a transition to focus on social and organizational behavior. It was this change in interest that led me to accept my first opportunity to work in administration.To me, administrative work has essentially been a daily laboratory experience in my areas of academic interest. Again—it has been about learning, connecting, and teaching.
As an administrator, I discovered a form of competitiveness I’m not sure I recognized, previously. I am very “growth oriented,” and drawn to situations where I feel my own hard work and experience can help create an advantage for whatever entity I am serving. In each position I’ve held (associate dean, dean, vice president, vice provost) my areas of responsibility have experienced significant growth in programs, enrollment, and net revenue.
At a deeper level, however, my commitment has been to expand access and opportunity for those who might otherwise not be able to achieve their educational goals. I don’t know that I fully appreciated my own commitment to this particular area of higher education, until I became a vice president, but it definitely has been a theme.
Moreover, in all of my roles, a key element has been what I now call “engaged partnership.” In fact, bringing a strong, consistent focus on mission (access and outreach) through engaged partnerships has been the common element in my work.
At a still more personal level, I believe I am a strong strategic thinker, but I’m drawn much more toward the creativity in design approaches to innovation, that encourage high performance teams, working to individual and collective strengths, and moving quickly/nimbly. I find the more traditional strategic planning approach, which tends to emphasize incremental or evolutionary change, too limiting for today’s environment.
In recent years, I’ve also been drawn toward the ideas that underlie positive psychology: Strengths-based leadership teams, building and expanding capacity (rather than focusing on deficits or “solving problems”), and releasing the energy and creativity in organizations. I find this orientation yields a sense of confidence and empowerment in people, allowing them to take risks or cope with stress better than would otherwise be the case.
These are challenging times in higher education. Demographics, technology, and the interests of adult learners have combined to create a disruptive environment. New providers and new delivery methods have changed the competitive landscape in ways that many established institutions struggle to understand. I am committed now to working with institutions and leaders who are prepared to engage in creative design approaches that support the type of strategic change that will be necessary in order to thrive in the future.
Over a 35-year career, I have gained direct experience in leading strategic change processes, building programs, helping to develop marketing strategies, and creating financial/budget management tactics that yield significant growth in enrollment. My experience places me at the intersection of programs for adult learners, distance learning opportunities, and the dynamic role of regional or branch campuses.
As a leader, motivator, strategist, and coach, with academic expertise in social and organizational behavior, I can contribute to the development of creative approaches that will energize institutions and point the way toward successfully competing in today’s environment.