Just Talk 2/25/20

Leadership Opinion by Richard Bleil

She was so cute. She still is truth be told; more than twenty years later and she hardly looks like she aged a single day. But more than that she is just as sweet as ever.

She was my office mate, and everybody loves her. They loved her then, and they love her now. My own mother loved her like a daughter. At one point she said that she understands why we’re not dating because she’s too good for me. Thanks a LOT, Mom.

It was never really an option. She is a great friend, and was always involved with a great guy, and today they’re a beautiful couple, but I was glad to call her a friend. Heck, everybody was proud to call her a friend. We were in graduate school, and all of the other graduate students in the building just adored her. She probably doesn’t remember this particular conversation, but she said something that I carry with me today and has been a guide for my leadership style. At one point I tried to pay her a compliment saying how much everybody loves her. Her response was to say that it’s not given. She actually makes an effort, something that I’ve never been particularly good at, at least not in my personal life. She explained that every day she would walk through the building and visit with people.

When I became a supervisor, I made this a personal habit of mine. I tried routinely to walk around and talk with people whether they reported directly to me or not. I felt as if this was a great way to learn, as people are more open and comfortable speaking on their “home field” rather than in my office. They didn’t feel like they were in trouble, and by walking around and chatting with them, it helped them become familiar with me if they so chose to take advantage of the opportunity.

The interesting thing is that some of the other administrators took my habits to heart. At the university where I was dean, I noticed that my first provost and that the president started doing the same thing, just walking around chatting with people. I wrote a post a couple of days ago about the provost who fired me and how she herself was fired. One of the private comments I got from this post was from a friend of mine from that institution who told me that the shock of my dismissal hit several people on campus, going so far as to say that the day he learned of my release was the day he began seeking alternate employment. What he said was that the reason that he started looking to get a new job is because I was the only administrator who actually made an effort to reach out to others.

I heard that on campus as well. I used to visit the building where many art faculty were housed, and frankly, I’ve always enjoyed art. More than one of these professors explained that I was the only member of administration, including their own dean, who ever even stepped foot into the building.

This shocked me.

We need to make an effort to talk with people, especially those who are in leadership positions. As a civilian member of the PD, I went to a Pow wow put on by Native Americans, and while it was open to the public, the reality is that other members of the PD refused to go stating personal safety concerns. Without any formal police training, no personal protection, I wore my PD polo and went to the Pow wow. It was astounding. Every member of the Native community with whom I spoke acted suspicious at first, but just talking with them, asking questions and wanting to learn, it didn’t take long before they realized that I was just trying to learn about their culture, and they opened up and were among the most friendly and open people I’ve ever known.

Because I was willing to talk.

The art of talking is a dying skill. Maybe it’s because of texting, or perhaps it’s an issue of fear of crime, or maybe it’s the growing social chasm in society, but it’s hard to reach out to people these days. There was a day that people would visit new neighbors when they moved in, but at the house I moved into in 1999, I can tell you that it was literally a year before even the next-door neighbors introduced themselves. I’m not better, I guess, as I didn’t introduce myself to them, either. But I think that we should try harder. After all, it’s just talk.


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