What if the wind of opportunity to improve your culture – and thus move your organization forward – is blowing…right now? If your sails are up, you can turn what could have been a wasted moment into exciting, new progress.
Meet a leader who’s done just that – and learned to leverage moments of opportunity into sustainable progress of amazing organizational growth. He’s Dr. Roger Parrott, longtime president of Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, and seven branch campuses throughout the Southeast.
If you think his four powerful strategies flourish only in Christian higher education, well take a look. . . .
After Roger became Belhaven’s president in 1996, two realities began to crystallize:
- First, enrollment was 1,000 undergraduates.
- Second, Bellhaven’s initial BCWI Employee Engagement Survey pinpointed the health of the institutional culture bordering at critical moment.
“The survey revealed where we needed to work to develop long-term trust. We needed to capture opportunities that would allow us to grow, change and create a new model of a Christian University. And to do so, we’d have to be willing to break some of the organizational structures that have historically kept universities from being responsive to the people they serve.”
Under Roger’s leadership and through a highly collaborative process, Belhaven sought to expand its educational offerings and physical plant while simultaneously developing a healthy, flourishing culture. Both goals were realized, in large part, through a disciplined allegiance to four principled truths. Here’s what Roger shared with me in our recent interview:
1. Catch the wind
“I think of our cultural transformation like that of a sailboat preparing to catch the wind. Effective sailing takes preparation: the right team, education and training. All of it needs to be in place so that your sails raise to catch the wind of opportunity. If you’re not sensitive to the wind that’s often very gentle to start out, you’ll miss it.
Our preparation, as a culture, has allowed us to catch the wind and go where the Spirit of God wants to take us. We’ve purposefully decided not to be a powerboat, going single-mindedly where we think God wants us to go. Wise preparation to go where God wants to take us has enabled and empowered our people to work together and trust one another to raise our enrollment to 5,000 students earning bachelor and graduate degrees across campuses.”
Preparation allows us to catch the wind and go where the Spirit of God wants to take us.
2. Embrace a patient process
“Through patience, faith and wisdom, we’ve learned as a community that successful ideas bubble up, become refined, strengthened and executed through a patient, collaborative process. We’re not into figuring out problems from the start with pre-arranged, air-tight solutions. We seriously explore opportunities, knowing that some ideas may not see the light of day. Those that do advance our mission are because of people who live out their gifts and calling with reasonable checks and balances of direction and accountability.”
3. Lead by listening first
“Being a 21-year long-term president, I dedicated this past year to a fresh approach. As if I were a new president, I made a point to sit down face to face and listen to every faculty and staff member. I went to their office or work site, because I wanted to get as close as possible to their working environment. I asked each one, ‘What do you want me to know about you?’ I learned a lot—from families and children, to department challenges and yet-unfinished lifelong dreams. It is amazing to me how much you can learn just by listening to the people who are on the front lines serving students. I want to listen in on the big things, but the little ones matter too – sometimes more.”
4. Innovate to engage
“A professor friend of mine at another university told me it took him seven months and eight committees to change the name of a course. That’s not Belhaven. Instead, we value innovation that’s flexible and responsive to the needs of our students and the healthy kind of culture we’ve created.”
Sometimes, the biggest outcome of building a healthy culture is an attitude and perspective of growth. To wit: Roger ended our conversation with a story of Belhaven’s opportunity to take over another college campus for adult/graduate learning.
“All the due diligence, including the financials, had been done. Finally the question was put to the faculty: ‘What do you think?’ After 30 seconds, a wise professor said, ‘Why wouldn’t we?’ That kind of campus-wide spirit crystallized for me the kind of unique God-given opportunity that, like a door, you need openness to trust and walk on through.”
Words of faith spoken by a university president who freely acknowledges his work is still unfinished:
“I don’t see where it’s all leading, and some days I say to myself, ‘Yikes!’ Yet if I look back and reflect and see the trail of how God has led in the midst of obstacles, I’ll say, ‘Wow.’ There’s great joy in Christian leadership and ministry when we can stop to look back and see what God has done and and build on the confidence of his faithfulness for the courage to go forward.”