Pachelbel’s Leadership in D

Leaders can find inspiration from many sources, including a musical piece made famous at weddings, says President Armacost to students at UND’s Morrison Leadership Summit

UND President Andy Armacost was the keynote speaker at the 2021 Morrison Leadership Summit, which was hosted by the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration at UND. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

Editor’s note: On Monday, President Armacost was the keynote speaker at the Morrison Leadership Summit, an annual event hosted by the Nistler College of Business and Public Administration at UND.

Established by McCain Foods in honor of UND Alumnus, North Dakota native and former CEO of McCain Foods Dale Morrison, the summit is a day-long conference for students who have shown excellent leadership qualities at the university.

In his address, President Armacost talked about growing up in Wisconsin (a history that sets up the joke in the second paragraph below), attending Northwestern University and MIT and his career as an Air Force officer. He also described the leadership lessons he learned from books and mentors along the way.

He summed up his leadership philosophy in the second half of his speech. A lightly edited transcript of that second half is below.

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There’s this myth about optimism. People look at me and they say, “You must be the most optimistic leader I’ve ever seen.” And the reason they say that is because I’m happy. I smile a lot; my eyebrows are always up, and I’m always looking like there’s something exciting happening.

And I wear cheeseheads, of course (here, President Armacost showed, to laughter, a PowerPoint slide of himself and his wife, Kathy, wearing cheeseheads at a Wisconsin sporting event). So I must be happy, I must be optimistic.

But in fact, optimism actually comes from another place. I know optimistic leaders who are some of the most stoic and unexcited people I’ve ever met.
Instead, what they have are characteristics like competence, confidence, patience, and an undying sense of hope that they’re going to arrive at a good solution for their team.

So when I think about this idea of optimistic leaders, it’s not all the external piece. It’s the internal sources of competence and focus that people bring.

About a hundred students took part in the 2021 Morrison Leadership Summit, which was held in the Gorecki Alumni Center at UND. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

Optimism as team sport

I think it’s important to recognize optimism as a team sport – that you as a leader can create that optimistic sense in the people who work alongside you, who work for you. It’s your responsibility to demonstrate those characteristics of optimism that I described earlier.

This requires a lot. It requires you to get to know your teammates, to know them as individuals. Know what they love; know what they don’t love. Know what makes them tick, and how to motivate them.

That type of leadership, I think, is really important. And it’s based on these interpersonal relationships you have with your teammates.

I think it’s important to let them see you wrestle with challenges, too. As you think through the challenges of the day, let them see how you wrestle with them. Let them see your thought process.

Here’s another tip. Play your canon. What’s a canon? Show of hands, please? It’s a what … a weapon, something you shoot?

No. A canon is a musical piece. Pachelbel’s Canon in D, the famous wedding piece — do you know it?

Variations on a theme

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is just a variation on a theme. Throughout the piece, in other words, the melody is repeated in different ways.

So, when you think about how you communicate your ideas, think about playing those ideas over and over again. Think about the audience to whom you’re playing those ideas, or saying those ideas.

Think about how you can change the theme, or play a variation on the theme so that the new audience can better understand. Or maybe it’s the old audience who just gets sick of the first theme and wants to hear it differently.

So as you communicate your vision and your message for your organization, think about canons. Think about variations on a theme. And make sure that you play your theme over and over and over again

When you tune into the biweekly presidential videos or the forthcoming biweekly provost’s videos, what you’ll hear are common themes that are repeated — themes such as respect and dignity for other people on campus, repeated over and over again. It just comes out in different forms.

Dale Morrison, a UND alum, exceptional innovator in the international food industry and the namesake of the Morrison Leadership Summit, spoke at the Summit and introduced President Armacost. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

I think I can

It’s important for each of you to commit to a lifetime of learning. There’s a great book by Carol Dweck called, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” about how if you believe that you can continue to grow, you can.

It’s like doing push-ups for the brain, right? How do you get stronger? You do push-ups. How do you get smarter, how do you expand your knowledge? You read; you study new things.

So this idea behind Dweck’s “Mindset” book is that having a growth mindset – believing that you can grow – allows you to actually grow.

As you grow one side of the brain, exercise the other side of the brain. There’s a great book called “The Innovators,” by Walter Isaacson, which talks about those who have made great impact in the world of IT and computer science.

What made them so valuable was their ability not only to think technically, but also to think artistically and creatively.

And so folks like Ada Lovelace, who was the daughter of Lord Byron, the poet, but she was also an early mathematician and computer scientist.

The ability to go back and forth between those two worlds allows people to make those quantum leaps because they’re firing on both sides of the brain.

First follow, then lead

My advice to you is take every opportunity to lead, but also to follow. So when your classmates asked you to do something, step up with vigor. But sometimes they won’t ask, and you’ll be asked to take somebody else’s lead — and becoming a good follower is just as important as becoming a good leader.

Pay attention to the actions of your leaders, because you will learn a lot; and pay attention to the actions of your peers as well, because you’ll learn a lot there, too. Leadership emerges in places where you least expect it.

It’s important to build trust. This gets to the earlier comment about understanding and working with your teammates, and there’s no better way to build trust with others.

I didn’t realize until I was probably 26 or 27 that you can build trust by delegating.

Often we think that delegating is offloading our work on someone else, but it’s really not. Delegating is about sharing the success of your organization with other people, and allowing them to have a role in your and the organization’s success.

So delegation shouldn’t be seen as a burden, but an opportunity for others to be part of the team.

And it’s a great way to show your trust in other people.

During his keynote address at the Morrison Leadership Summit, UND President Andy Armacost spoke about the lessons he’s learned from leadership books. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

Tap the greatness

Find a confidant. When you’re in a leadership position, the higher you go, the lonelier it becomes.

When you don’t have peers, you’re in situations where you need to find somebody to bounce ideas off of. Many leaders in positions like mine have executive coaches, and this is a great strategy, in that it
gives you somebody whom you can bounce ideas off of, routinely.

The same can be accomplished by having a great team, like I do on our Executive Council. What a great group of leaders that is to bounce ideas off of and really get into the work of trying to solve the most difficult problems that our university faces.

Realize that everybody is great at something. As we’re leading teams, it’s important to understand that everybody on our team – even though they might be struggling with things – has that kind of potential. How do you tap that greatness in each person?

Similarly, look for the chance to mold others in each of your leadership positions. You might have the chance to bring an underclass person up into your leadership team; look for the opportunity to bring them along, to bring them into the leadership decisions that you’re making.

Earlier I mentioned optimists and optimism: it’s important to know or to believe that you can change the world. Having that stronger sense of purpose, I think, is an important component of leadership.

Core values

At the root of all that you do, make sure that you understand your core values – the core values that you have personally, and the core values that your institution has. You’ll be much better off if those two things are aligned, by the way.

And always stand up for those core values. Make sure that the decisions that you’re making align with those principles.

There’s a great adage out there; it’s been attributed to a number of people, including Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, and others.

But it goes something like this:

Watch your thoughts, because your thoughts will impact your words.

Watch your words, because your words will influence your actions.

Watch your actions, for your actions create your habits.

Watch your habits, because your habits define your character.

And after all, it’s your character that defines your destiny.

Last but not least, let me express one final time – because we can’t do this enough – always, as a leader, express gratitude for the people who work alongside you, as well as for the people whom you run into randomly, throughout all aspects of life.

With that sense of gratitude, I will say to you, thank you for committing to being here today. And thank you for stepping up as leaders on our campus.

Hopefully what you’ve learned throughout the day, and perhaps some of the things that you just heard here, will resonate with you. And you’ll take one or two pieces of that, and put them into your leadership mosaic.

So congratulations, and thanks.