Leading with Heart

Photo by MA FAB on Unsplash

Walter Urban hired me to work at McMurry College (now University). It was my first job right out of law school. Walter was the Dean of Students and I was Associate Dean of Students. It was a great title, and first job and Walter was a wonderful supervisor and teacher.¬†Walter wasn’t a career Student Affairs professional. He retired from the military, went back to school for his Masters in Counseling and took a job at McMurry because he was a lifelong Methodist and because he wanted to help people. Walter taught me about leading with my heart.

Doing what needed doing

The Office of the Dean of Students was located on the first floor of the Old Main Building. My office was long and narrow, one wall lined with windows. My predecessor had painted the back wall bright blue with a rainbow across it with a sun and flowers. I was twenty-four, looked eighteen, maybe, and I didn’t want an office that looked like it belonged in a daycare. I asked Walter if I could paint the wall. He said I could, but when I arrived on my first day, I found the rainbow wall was already gone. Later I learned the story.

Painting my wall wasn’t high on the list of tasks for the few facilities staff that summer and Walter decided he would paint the wall. He had the wall fully painted and saw a bit of fluff in the top corner. He tried to flick it off and found that the blue paint, covered in wet beige paint, was coming off the wall. The whole wall peeled off. I can’t imagine what a mess it was. He cleaned up the mess and repainted the wall and my office was ready for me when I arrived. Walter got it done.

Different paths

Walter expected he would end his career at McMurry. But, he knew my career was just starting and that I would probably only be at McMurry for a short time. He supported that by handing me a brochure from the Texas Association of College and University Student Personnel Administrators (TACUSPA). Walter said, “I know your path will take you away from here, so you should go to this conference. We’ll pay for it.” One year later, I was invited to give my first professional presentation at the TACUSPA law conference. Ten years later, I found myself standing behind a podium as president of TACUSPA. It’s still one of my professional homes. Walter wasn’t active in professional associations, but he knew it would help me, so he gave me a nudge. It mattered. He made a difference for me and in my career.

Two of the many stories about Walter’s leadership. He cared about the people of McMurry and everything he did was a reflection of that care. Walter showed me how to lead from my heart. He never heard, certainly never said, ‘that’s not my job.’ If it would help someone on our campus, student, faculty, or staff, that was reason enough to do it. Walter Urban was one of my teachers. He showed me how to lead with heart and I’m a better leader for having worked with him.


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