The Gift of Learning

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
President John F. Kennedy

Jim Caswell was a life long Mustang. When I went to work with him at SMU (Southern Methodist University), he was Vice President for Student Affairs. I had known him for years through our statewide professional organization, TACUSPA*, but now I was sitting across from him as his Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life.

“You know I like that you have a law degree. I’ll be sending you to talk with the lawyers when we need them. I don’t speak their language, but you do.” (He was right. I did get different answers than he did from conversations with our legal counsel.) “And we’re going to use your Ph.D. to get something done that I’ve wanted to do for some time. We’re going to start a for-credit leadership class, and you’re going to teach it!”

It took a year to find an academic home for the class, but soon, I found myself standing in front of a room full of undergraduates who wanted to study leadership. What a fantastic gift Jim had given me, though I only had the faintest idea of its value at the time. Teaching that class at that point in my career gave me the opportunity to study leadership as an academic field. It gave me a chance to teach it, which is, of course, one of the best ways to learn a subject. And studying and teaching leadership while I was learning what it meant to have a formal leadership role was a powerful combination.

I’ve been teaching, studying, and practicing leadership ever since. Like many topics, the more I learn about leading, the more I know there is to learn. In the same way, the more I have had the chance to practice leadership, the more I realize I have much to learn.

This month I take that work in a new direction. As I begin my new adventure as Gage Paine Consulting, I see myself as continuing the work I started when Jim gave me that gift more than twenty years ago. It’s a chance to teach – through facilitating workshops, and working with individual leaders and their teams as they work on leadership opportunities and challenges in real time. It’s a chance to learn – as I continue to read, share what I’ve read, and, work with others to meet the changing needs of organizations and communities. It’s a chance to lead through speeches and in writing as I share my leadership experiences and philosophies.

I see this new adventure as a chance to put President Kennedy’s words into practice, and I hope you’ll journey along with me.

*Texas Association of College and University Student Personnel Administrators
The Gift of Learning

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