By Jackie Todd, University Relations
Leadership is not a position, according to Jim Clements. One can be a leader regardless of title, salary, or placement on an organizational chart. Leadership is about action, impact and making a difference. That message is being heard by 25 participants of the President’s Leadership Institute (PLI), who have now completed the halfway point of the program. The 10-month initiative exposes Clemson’s faculty and staff to all aspects of the university’s operations, presents opportunities to interact with senior leaders and allows them to participate in activities designed to build leadership skills, broaden their perspectives, create invaluable networks and prepare them to pursue leadership roles. This is the second class that has participated since the program began in 2016.
The sessions kicked off in August with a two-day retreat where participants began their journey through exercises that promoted team-building, empowerment and self-discovery.
During the next few months, the class met in various locations on and off Clemson’s main campus. Visits to the Advanced Materials Research Lab and the High Performance Computing Center in Anderson County, as well as CU-ICAR, the Center for Manufacturing Innovation and Greenville One, demonstrated the reach and importance of the university’s presence and contribution to the Upstate.
Senior administrators, industry experts, alumni and university faculty at these locations shared their respective paths to leadership positions and lessons learned along the way. Through presentations, interactive exercises and team-building events, the class analyzed essential pillars of leadership through themes such as integrity, inclusion and culture.
Perhaps the most heartfelt lessons were learned at the December PLI session, where the class visited and interacted with residents in the Pickens County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs. The day’s theme was servant leadership, which hinges on the concept that leadership focuses on service to others.
The theme was exhibited throughout the day as the class assisted residents in creating arts and crafts, which are then sold to the community. The class led exercise sessions for residents to stimulate mental and physical health. Finally, they served lunch to everyone in the building.
Clements said that the concept of service is not only essential in leadership, it’s part of Clemson’s DNA as a land-grant university.
“If you think about the mission of a land-grant university, we are different from other schools,” he explained. “The land-grant gives us a certain mission that other schools don’t have. We know we do education. We know we do research, but service is part of why we were created. Education…yes. Research…yes. Service…absolutely.”
PLI participants say that the program has benefited them with many reporting that their leadership style is more effective.
“I am focused more on trying to define a vision, not just handle daily operational issues,” noted one participant.
Others stressed the need to be more “reflective and intentional” and even more are learning to integrate multiple perspectives in problem solving.
“I’ve gained powerful insights into my own leadership style and learned new ideas that I can use in my department.”
“This has been an incredibly positive experience: educational, immersive and introspective.”
Kyra Lobbins, director of President’s Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, has led the PLI from its inception. She said that the sessions have been a tremendous learning experience for all involved – even herself.
“The class has challenged me just as much as we have strived to challenge them,” she said. “We structure the program in an intentional, meaningful way, while elevating the experience in response to participant feedback.”
Lobbins said that in the coming months, PLI class members will continue to broaden and enhance their experience.
“We will encourage the class to explore beyond their current roles and responsibilities at Clemson,” she said. “Leadership is not only about living and leading in the present, but also having the ability to forecast and plan for the future.”
The PLI class will run until mid-May.