* WVU President Mike Garrison

West Virginia’s Young Leadership Conference

April 23, 2008*

When I look around the room this morning, it is great to see so many familiar facespeople Ive worked with for many years people who have made West Virginia a better place, people who I know are leaders because I have seen the results of their work.

I also see more than a few new faces, and even though it is early in the day, I see a lot of enthusiasm and energy.

I want to thank you all for being here, particularly because we have a large number of our WVU students here; you all set such great examples for them.

I want to introduce two of our student leaders, Jason Parsons and Tommy Napier.

I believe that this is an exciting and a challenging time to be a leader, and for those of you beginning your careers, it is an exciting time to aspire to leadership.

Whether you are a boomer, an Xer or a millennial, there are great challenges, but also great opportunities before us.

And I believe that the opportunities exist, and the greatest rewards will go to those who are best able to discover what unites us, to organize individuals into common effort and to avoid the distractions and jealousies that traditionally have pulled us apart.

It is as true in the workplace as it is in the military, or in politics or even in religion.

I contend that leadership is most effective in the hands of those who unite us.

And the greatest opportunity for todays leader is in his/her ability to draw upon so much talent from across generations, across cultures and across the ideological spectrum.

We live in world where collective wisdom powers many technologies and communication vehicles that we are now beginning to use every day, from Google to blogs to wikis, to social networking Web sites.

These technologies are transforming people from consumers to creators of information.

And, in contrast to the patterns of the past, information now most commonly spreads laterally, in many directions, to many people, instead of coming from a single source out to a mass audience.

One of the great tasks facing todays leader is bringing this wisdom together, giving people the opportunity to share information and use their unique skills and ideas in a team effort to improve an organization.

Those who are most likely to succeed as tomorrows leaders are those who can move beyond the divisions that have challenged us for generationsand leaders across the spectrum are realizing that continuing to rehash these differences will not solve the problems that our country and our organizations face today.

At the 1960 Democratic National Convention, John F. Kennedy said,The world is changing. The old ways will not doIt is time for a new generation of leadership.

Nearly half a century later, in a world that changes more quickly than ever, those words ring even more true.

I contend that the new generation of leaders that the 21st century requires will not be defined by chronological age, but by their ability to bring people together to accomplished shared goals.

And how do you do that? Im not here to lay down firm dos and donts for managing your own organizations. No one knows that better than you, and there are so many truly effective leaders in this room.

I can only tell you a few of the things that have worked for me since I became president of West Virginia University back in September and what is working for several of the Universitys most innovative young leaders.


As an active alumnus of WVU , I knew and loved the University. But I recognized that as president, I needed to have an even deeper understanding of its strengths, its challenges and especially its people.

And I knew I needed to give people a chance to get to know me, to hear my vision for the University and to let them know I took their ideas seriously to help me shape that vision.

I needed to start a conversation, but just as importantly, I needed to listen.

And, at a series of forums across the Morgantown campus and around the state, I listened.

Literally thousands of peoplefaculty, staff, students, administrators and community membershave attended these forums, and just by listening to them, I learned much more about WVU and its people than I could in any other way.

Some forums have tackled specific issues, but most have been wide-ranging discussions.

People attending the forums made helpful suggestions about such things as improving campus safety, expanding study-abroad opportunities, strengthening studentswriting and math skills, making our campus more environmentally sustainable, providing child care and other quality-of-life benefits to employees and finding new ways to serve West Virginians.

We were able to act on some of these suggestions very quicklydifferent from study on a shelflistening, then action.

Above all, people expressed their love for WVU , their belief in our work and their pride at playing a part in it.

One thing we found is that in the digital age, listening doesnt have to take place face-to-face. Weve webcast most of our forums and given people the opportunity to submit comments online.

We also started a blog to talk about issues that are important and to seek feedback from the University community.

Some issuesfree speech, off-campus housing, what drew faculty and staff members to WVU have inspired lively discussions.

Another approach that has worked has been a direct effort to build teams and to work across disciplines and outside of sometimes artificial lines.

Building work teams allow us to tap thewisdom of crowdswithin a microcosma group of people from across cultures, generations and job responsibilities that bring unique talents to a specific project.

The other very important thing that true team building does is to cause us all to value other peoples unique perspectives and ideas.

At WVU , we are privileged to work in a community that attracts students and employees from all over the world.

And in higher education today, one of our most important responsibilities is preparing students to work in a global marketplace.

Our graduates will work with men and women from all national, racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Many of them will spend at least part of their careers in another county or working with people who approach their work from a different cultural perspective.

As leaders, we must be sensitive to cultural differences, and we must actively seek diverse perspectives on our organizations work.

And team building tells us that its vital that we not just value diversity, but understand that it is a necessary ingredient for success on every level.

And finally, one of our most important tasks as leaders is identifying new leaders. For me, this grows naturally out of the other practices Ive discussed.

When you listen, you get to know who has great ideas.

When you build work teams, you discover just what talents your colleagues have, and sometimes they surprise you with abilities that their normal functional responsibilities dont fully exploit.

And when you broaden your vision to include diverse perspectives, you meet people who can play new roles in your organization.

At WVU , Ive been privileged to work with some truly exciting leaders at all levels.