President Armacost: ‘Leadership is a human experience’
UND president gives first address on leadership in inaugural 18:83 Speaker Series
Located just above the “LUX ET LEX” motto on the seal of the University of North Dakota is the year UND was founded — 1883. Inserting a bit of punctuation into that number also makes it a time limit — 18 minutes and 83 seconds.
That’s the length of time allotted to speakers in the first-ever 18:83 Speaker Series, which got underway on Wednesday, Aug. 30 in the Memorial Union. President Andy Armacost was the first speaker in the series, in which campus and community leaders discuss their ideas on leadership in a “TED Talk” format. The idea of the series is to add another forum to campus in which to involve students, faculty, staff and community members in developing their leadership qualities.
In a way, the series of speakers (six in total) is representative of Armacost’s philosophy of leadership: It’s about the people around you.
“My underlying message is leadership is a very human experience,” he said, standing at the base of the Social Stairs in the Memorial Union, to those seated before him and those watching from above. “We see that with all the human beings in this room. As I think about the way that I lead, I like to do it by recognizing the humanity of everybody within the University and within the organization.”
Armacost said it is difficult for him to imagine a single, overarching figure that he thinks exemplifies being a leader, as there are so many great examples. Instead, he told the audience to imagine a mosaic, a piece of art utilizing small objects placed together to make the whole.
And spending nearly 24 years at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs provided him with ample opportunity to develop ideas about leadership. He said faculty members there not only have to think about educating the students, but in promoting leadership qualities. There was no place like the classroom, he said, that prepared him for a leadership role.
Instilling leadership qualities is an idea Armacost is continuing in his role as president at UND. But students need to be observant. Becoming a leader means reflecting on the positive and negative qualities of the leaders they encounter. They can do that as well through observing their peers and teammates. They should also take action in their time as students at UND.
“Let me encourage everyone, students in particular, to take every opportunity to lead,” he said. “This University has over 250 clubs, many elected leadership positions, informal leadership positions. Whether it’s in Greek life or non-Greek life or whether it’s on sports teams, take the chance to lead.”
Throughout his talk Armacost took the time to mention, and show as well, on the monitor above the stage, different books on leadership that he has read over the years, that helped inform his own ideas. And “books,” plural, is key, just like observing all the leaders around a person.
“My point is, there are a lot of perspectives out there,” he said, after showing slides of books such as John Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership;” Jim Collins’ “Good to Great;” “The Servant Leader’s Manifesto” by Omar Harris and “The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership” by Tim Elmore, among several others.
“It pays to open a book and read about those perspectives, and to build back into your mosaic how you’re going to become an effective leader.”
And leaders, it turns out, need to embrace uncertainty. Nowhere was that more evident than during the coronavirus pandemic that upended life on campuses across the nation. Armacost said that when he is asked if the onset of the pandemic made for a horrible year, he tells people no, that it was, in fact, quite the opposite. He then gave a shout out to campus leaders such as Meloney Linder, vice president for Marketing & Communications, for coming together in common cause to keep people safe.
Continuing, Armacost elucidated several other qualities, no doubt acquired through his own experiences as a leader. Seemingly minor habits like making sure to learn the names of the people around one are anything but (“Trust me, this really matters”) he said.
Finding joy in the success of others while worrying less about one’s own individual successes is important, as is looking for ways to bring others along on the journey, such as through mentorship opportunities.
Leaders look to build trust in the people around them, and they never lose the belief that they can change the world. They stand up for their values and express their gratitude, and they remain connected to others.
On that last point, Armacost said he named this year as the Year of Connection, a continuation of idea of finding a theme to rally people around an idea (last academic year was the Year of Gratitude, which Armacost then later extended to the Decade of Gratitude).
“I encourage you to keep connected,” he said. “Connect with others on the campus, connect with others in local communities, make sure that you keep nurturing those connections throughout your career.”
Next in the series
Up next in the 18:83 Speaker Series is Art Malloy, vice president of Student Affairs, who will speak on Sept. 6. Malloy told UND Today the genesis of the speaking series came about from brainstorming different ways to offer leadership opportunities for UND students.
Cassie Gerhardt, associate vice president of Student Affairs, was also deeply involved in developing the series. She said that, apropos of the year of the launch of the UND LEADS strategic plan, it is entirely fitting for Armacost to begin the series with his thoughts on the nature of leadership, and that community members can learn something from each of the speakers.
“We think students, faculty and staff can get some great takeaways from some outstanding local leaders,” she said of the speaker series.
The complete list of speakers can be found on the Student Involvement website.