32 | COMMUNITY COLLEGE JOURNAL AACC.NCHE.EDU
“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the
shoulders of giants,” said Sir Isaac Newton.
I consider myself lucky to be able to think
back upon my career and recall fondly the many
leaders who helped me to see further. Some of
them provided overt leadership, guidance, advice,
an occasional scolding, and – most important,
opportunity. Others I studied and learned from
indirectly and tried to emulate their leadership
traits. Even those who were less successful were
my teachers in showing me the type of leader that
I did not want to be. I stood on each of their shoulders as I progressed toward my career goals and I
am eternally grateful.
Honoring my own leadership upbringing, I have
tried to pay it forward. Many of you have heard me
talk of the students, employees and mentees whom
I have been privileged to serve during my career.
I am very proud that so many of them are now college presidents themselves and continue to advance
the community college mission. I am hopeful that
they are now paying it forward themselves.
We hear so often about the “giants” and about
those they mentor, but what about you—the presidents and leadership team members who are
leading at community colleges right now? Now
it’s your turn.
It’s your turn to reach back and extend a hand to
someone who may now benefit from your mentoring. It may seem as though you are still learning
yourself (which, to be honest, I hope we all are). It
may seem as though you are still leading from the
middle, but the middle is the perfect place from
which to lead.
The middle is where the action is. John Maxwell
has written at length about leadership and he notes
that “99 percent of all leadership occurs not from
the top but from the middle of an organization.”
From the middle, you have the best view of the
organization and are able to work across departments and functions and to transcend the silos we
tend to set up in our organizations. In doing so with
the bigger strategic picture in mind, you are positioned to accomplish much and influence many.
And, trust me, they are watching.
Don’t be alarmed by it. Remember, you did it,
as well (and some of us still are). Watching those
who model the behaviors of good leadership and
emulating them is something that is taught in
many leadership development arenas. Being seen
as a leader does not mean you have reached the
pinnacle of leadership. In fact, showing those who
are watching that you value learning and growing
as a leader will plant the seed that good leaders
value continuous education, and personal and
professional development. While you are modeling
the best leadership traits, others are standing on
your shoulders and will one day pay it forward to
the next generation.
Walter G. Bumphus is president and CEO of the American Association of
Paying it forward
By Walter G. Bumphus
“It’s your turn to reach back and extend a hand to someone who
may now benefit from your mentoring.”