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March 30, 2017

Pitt employees advised: Lead where you are

PS EarleJim Earle, assistant vice chancellor for business, preached the gospel of “leading where you are” at the March 23 Staff Association Council-sponsored workshop.

The former assistant athletic director, using many anecdotes from the world of sports, coupled with views on leadership by everyone from John Quincy Adams to modern motivational speakers, aimed to show that leadership “is central for the process of any organization. We have to have leadership throughout the organization.”

The culture of an organization — essentially the collective attitudes of the people within a business toward the business’s mission — governs how well people respond to leaders, Earle noted. And leadership is embodied in a person’s actions, not bestowed on anyone by a title. He cited a quote from Adams, the sixth U.S. president: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

How can Pitt employees lead where they are?

Earle illustrated seven principles:

• First, knowing yourself is essential. “We have to be secure in who we are to be an effective leader,” Earle said.

“Yet it’s really tricky,” he added, displaying a leadership definition from successful marketer and motivational speaker Jim Rohn: “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”

“It’s easy to talk about our strengths,” Earle noted, but equally important to know your weaknesses.

• His second principle: “Bring enthusiasm to everything you do.”

Earle said he was surprised to read Microsoft founder Bill Gates explain, in an interview, that his strength was not proven by creating companies or designing computer programs, but instead demonstrated when he shared his enthusiasm with people.

“He got so many people excited about his vision and his passion that it allowed them to create this amazing organization,” Earle noted.

He suggested Pitt employees can be leaders in their offices by displaying their own enthusiasm for the University through the way they communicate — the energy, passion and positivity they show in their work.

• Being positive and focusing on strengths form Earle’s third principle.

“When we lose — and we all lose at times — how we think at those times determines how we’ll recover,” he said. He suggested employing the power of positive recognition in Pitt offices: “How often in our workplace do we look for the negative? Let’s try to look for the things we’re doing right and recognize those” actions as a way of encouraging the continuation of such behaviors in the future.

• “Care unselfishly” is Earle’s fourth leadership ideal.

“Too often in our society we associate caring by a leader as showing weakness,” he said. “Do the people you lead know that you care about them? ‘We’re lucky we have you on our team’ — have you said that? It’s easy to show the boss you care. But do you show you care to everybody in the organization?

“Who is doing their job every day and maybe not getting the recognition?” he asked. “Reach out to them and thank them for what they do. Even the toughest people want to know that you care. When we care unselfishly, it has an amazing impact on people’s lives.”

He exhorted the crowd to celebrate successes together at work, and especially to listen to coworkers’ ideas: “Let them express their thoughts, opinions and views. And when you understand them, and only when you understand them, is it time to express your views.”

• A workplace culture that is not friendly to being led in productive directions will always defeat any supervisor’s strategic planning, he cautioned; hence his fifth principle: “Be a culture champion.”

“Let’s try to be allergic to mediocrity,” Earle said. “Give it a week. I’m going to be better today. I’m going to strive for excellence. Why not?”

He also recommended building trust among office colleagues by being helpful: “Culture champions put the team first and it’s team needs that have to take priority.”

• “Be persistent and persevere,” the sixth principle, requires building bridges among colleagues, he explained. “Those who lead where they are,” he said, “reach out and connect and make other people feel better. It’s going to be hard. You can never give up.”

• Finally, he said, “Choose happiness.”

Earle recalled a trip to Miami. When the Super Shuttle pulled up to take him from the airport to his hotel, out jumped the driver, Omar Hernandez, who welcomed Earle to the city with an enthusiastic introduction and a strong handshake.

Earle was the only person on the shuttle and saw Hernandez studying him in the rearview mirror. Then Hernandez spoke up: “You seem like a happy guy,” he said. Earle replied that he saw it in Hernandez, too.

“Tell me, what’s your secret?” Earle asked.

Hernandez replied: “When I wake up in the morning, I look in the mirror and say, no matter the traffic, no matter how bad my customers may be, they can’t touch my happiness.”

Earle learned that Hernandez had lost a lot of money in real estate during the recession, making his current job a bit of a comedown.

“Omar did not want to be driving the Super Shuttle,” Earle said, “but he’s the best Super Shuttle driver the world has ever seen. Leaders who lead where they are choose positivity.”


—Marty Levine



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