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 November 2007 • NIRSA news and information
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Leadership Notes

"A new order of things"

Tom Kirch

"It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more uncertain of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new order of things. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions, and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones."

Machiavelli, The Prince

I see this quote every day when I come to work. In fact, it is posted on my office wall. I first placed it there because it struck a chord with me about the conditions of leadership. It reminded me of how I have come to believe that any change agent or leader must possess the following: a belief and trust in others, the willingness and courage to take risks, the ability to have hope for the future, and being free enough to see the possibilities. Without those characteristics it is difficult to lead, let alone be a catalyst for the 'creation of a new order of things.'

However, over time, and as I began my tenure on the NIRSA Board of Directors, I saw something else. Embedded in the message are the questions: how will change occur, by whom, and how do you bring others along in that journey? What about the politics of change; influencing others; how do you deal with collateral damage, and is it worth it?

This continued as I saw additional meanings. If attempting change was so ripe for failure, why attempt it? What about those that fear the change — are they playing the needed role of caution or are they resistant because of self preservation? How can you tell the difference? How do you bring others around? How do I know that my view of the world is correct? And what about those who support the new order but don't step forward? There seemed to be no end to it.

This all seemed so confusing to me. I thought I had this all wrapped up in a little box — change is difficult, some will be opposed, others may not step forward as quickly as you would like, but in the end it is all worth it. Period, end of story. How could two short sentences have so many interpretations? How could the same words and phrasing give me new insight or understanding? I thought about it, I read about it, I even talked with others about it. No great answers, nothing profound, and little clarity. This started to bother me; laying awake at night, losing concentration, my focus affected — I lost my groove!

Then one day, early in the morning as the sun was coming up (as it does from time to time in the northwest), latte in hand, it came to me. It was so clear and simple — how could I have missed it? The message hadn't changed, I had. I was the one that had grown, and through new experiences, possessed a different set of lenses to see the world. Perhaps this is insight or just life.

This experience resonated with me as I reflected on my own growth and development. When I stopped and looked back, I found I was very different than a short time ago. My perspectives include additional points of view, new influences are impacting me, my thought process is more inclusive; perhaps I see clearer. Although I thought I understood the possibilities and hopes for the future, there is so much more out there.

So what is the lesson here? Just as NIRSA is changing, so are we, and we need to be prepared and willing to make those adjustments as we see our world differently - rather than to fall back into the safety net of old institutions and comfort of our well structured and defined world. After all, once we see a new horizon, how can be stay in a paradigm we know is no longer true?

Take care and be well, TK

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