Who owns us?

Does your organization own you — or rent you?  

Scott Nichols, in an article titled “Renter or Owner?” (CASE Currents, October 11, 2011, p. 15-16), stated “Institutions rent me.  The profession owns me.”  In this situation, he was referring to the profession of institutional advancement (a.k.a, fund-raising), but the question applies broadly to higher education.  Nichols points out that people who are owned by the profession may find it easier to see the big picture, to find new ideas, and to have information that will benefit others than those who are owned by their institution.  He notes, “When advancement professionals stay at one job for so long, they run the risk of becoming myopic, of becoming resistant to change, and of not seeing how their operations might benefit from some fresh air.”

Nichols also emphasizes the importance of leadership in finding the right career opportunity.  He describes a defining question that he has used in job interviews:  “How would you feel if, instead of this hallmark institution, we were talking about the exact same job at Eastern State University?”  The response that he most respected was, “Tell me more about the leadership there.”  He adds, “Leadership, not mission, is the great differentiator…I have often advised individuals entering and rising through the profession to pick the boss over the institution.  It does little good in the long run of one’s career to be at a marquee institution if one is not given the latitude and tools to succeed and grow.”

One other point that Nichols made really struck me.  He described his concept of a perfect professional conference:  

“It would include the usual topical sessions, but the experienced panelists would have an unusual ground rule:  No one would be allowed to mention his or her own institution.  All examples would have to come from their knowledge of other institutions and how they work.  Presenters with that breadth of knowledge and interest in the industry would have a lot to offer attendees.”

Presenters like those would probably be, like Scott Nichols, owned by the profession and rented by the institution.  And I’d like to attend that professional conference, too.

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