How Leaders Adjust the Sails: Dr. Hrabowski

One of my favorite quotes is from leadership expert John C. Maxwell: “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”

For me, adjusting the sails means ensuring my colleagues have the wind at their backs as they work toward shared goals and their own successes. It’s about helping team members collaborate, each drawing on his or her own strengths, to solve problems. And it’s about creating an environment where everyone, myself included, can feel safe taking risks and continually growing.

One way I grow as a leader is by learning from people I admire, like Dr. Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County since 1992.

Hrabowski, who was a child leader in the civil rights movement, makes sure talented students of all colors have the wind at their backs. Because of his work, UMBC is now the nation’s leading producer of African-American scholars who go on to earn Ph.D.s and M.D.s, including at The Johns Hopkins University. He makes it possible for people to dream.

I’ve known Hrabowski for years, so I was thrilled when UMBC celebrated the greatest upset in college basketball history on March 16, when its No. 16 seed team trounced No. 1 University of Virginia, 74-54, in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

“Everybody thought it couldn’t be done because it hadn’t been done. And then we did it,” Hrabowski wrote in The Atlantic magazine after the historic win.

John Maxwell is right. When you adjust the sails and give talented people opportunities to do their best work, the impossible becomes possible.

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