President's Assembly
Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023
4:30 p.m. Tempel Green

It is always an honor to be introduced by student leadership. Thank you, Bella Castellanos Palacios, president of our Student Government Association. I also want to thank the army of staff for their work, the faculty, whom you will spend considerable time with, and the leadership team that has guided me during my “newness” here at Connecticut College. I’d like the president’s cabinet to rise and wave a hand. Students -- know who these people are.

I am the interim president during this transition year for Conn. I spent 45 plus years in public higher education in six states in a number of roles. In each, even as a president, I viewed my responsibilities as that of a teacher. Twenty of those years were as a professor and 25 as a senior administrator. The latter years really were about regarding my campus as one huge classroom. Teaching and learning are the purpose of a higher education, and you will find no better place to experience this than Connecticut College. Here at Conn, everyone teaches, everyone learns. Students, you are not just a receiver of this experience. At Conn, you are a partner in creating, participating and guiding the teaching and learning. That’s what makes this place special. You will be guided by an excellent faculty, supported by excellent staff and cheered on by family and friends. But inevitably, how you fashion and co-create your experience are central to our efforts and critical to your education.

I am a trained psychologist with an interest in how students -- and yes, all humans -- learn. Whether you are newborn, a fourth grader, in high school or now in college, how you handle knowledge and information and how that knowledge and information inform your behavior have been my lifelong quest. I couldn’t imagine anything more interesting. So, instead of listing some skills and attitudes the discipline has explored over the years, I’ll say, “go read the literature on learning.” There’s a lot to learn, but that’s not my point today.

I’ve been studying what I call “Intangible behaviors” -- those skills and behaviors that aren’t directly taught and aren’t often in our consciousness, but that influence what we do and often what we don’t do. I’ve looked at how these intangibles affect the development of self-control, but mostly how these intangibles affect leadership skills. I’d like to share with you some reflections on “intangibles.”

1. Listening skills: All too often, we are taught to speak clearly in whatever culture and environment we find ourselves. We are taught to read, think, compute, criticize, opinionate. We talk about being articulate. But we are not taught how to listen. Ironically, research shows that effective listening is a cornerstone to successful leadership. Do you think to yourself: What did they say? What do they really mean? Did I hear that correctly? Did I ask them politely to “say it again” or “could you say it differently?” Why is something like the following phrase such a social taboo to say: “I’m sorry, but I’m not understanding what you’re saying?” Good listeners are good learners are good leaders. People recognize instantly when they know you not only heard them but that you understand them.

2. Respecting all levels of work: This may seem unreal, but leaders, especially poor ones, don’t see and don’t respect the work done by so many around them. How motivated can you be when someone in authority over you ignores your work, ignores your effort, simply ignores you? Even if the effort turns out to be wrong, I would often say: “Hey, I appreciate the effort you put into this. Let’s talk about the results. What would you do differently now?” Respect also means saying thank you for every bit of behavior that happens to you, that the person not only had to do, but especially what they didn’t have to do but did to help you. Ignore that extra effort by someone to help you … and you are doomed. Respect means honor and it requires a special kindness. A rare quality nowadays. People will instantly see that in you.

3. Relationship skills: There’s lots of talk about how to do this. But I tell young leaders -- work hard at finding what’s comfortable for you in building relationships. People can sense quickly when one is not genuine, not honest or even manipulative. This “sense of something weird” shouldn’t be ignored. You might not know why you feel that way or why you can’t find the words for what you feel. Just feel this sensitivity as a warning, an alert. Be wary. But be alert. If we’re not used to the kindness of others, start learning how to say thank you and your confidence will grow. And guess what -- you’ll learn how to trust others. And they will learn to trust in you. That weird feeling will go away.

4. In conclusion, honor and respect your own learning. Engage ideas and people who are different from you, new to you. Make it an annual goal to learning something you know nothing about. You’ll find that there is someone to know, something to learn that will excite you. That is passion. And passion driven by curiosity is power. That’s a college education.

Enjoy your time. Introduce yourself to me when you see me on campus. Let me know how things are going. And please, write your mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, people close to you regularly. Not every day, nor every hour, but find a rhythm to connect with people who support and love you. Buy stamps and handwrite them a letter. Reaching out to others. That alone is a powerful intangible.

My best to you.