Laying a foundation – for a pillar

Bill McCoy
Bill McCoy

“Ethically Inspired Leadership.”

The words are familiar words to anyone on the NIU campus as one of President Doug Baker’s pillars of Student Career Success, but their meaning might seem unclear to those outside the university community.

Such was the case for a corporate executive booked to speak at the annual BELIEF Week in the NIU College of Business. Curious about the meaning, that captain of industry dispatched one of her liaisons in search of the answer.

Bill McCoy, the longtime director of the BELIEF Program, took that call – and found himself unsure of how to reply.

Later, as he attended a conference on ethics, McCoy sketched a design of what Ethically Inspired Leadership (EIL) might entail. He emailed that concept to Baker, who provided some feedback and encouraged and empowered McCoy to dig deeper.

“I knew it was important to President Baker,” McCoy said. “With his blessing, I was able to pull together a myriad of people – a very diverse group – who became vested in a process of very deep thoughts. The process we went through took months.”

McCoy’s group – Steve Daskal, from the Department of Philosophy; Christine Rienstra Kiracofe, from the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations; Pam Smith, from the Department of Accountancy; Mike Stang from Student Affairs & Enrollment Management; and Toni Tollerud, interim associate dean in the College of Education – set about the work of examining value statements from across the university.

Top: Steve Daskal and Christine Rienstra Kiracofe Bottom: Mike Stang and Toni Tollerud
Top: Steve Daskal and Christine Rienstra Kiracofe
Bottom: Mike Stang and Toni Tollerud

The team reviewed existing value statements from colleges, divisions, departments, units and centers throughout NIU, discovering what already was embraced across the university.

Input also came from asking colleagues for their ideas and opinions on the topic.

Finally, the group members formulated a list of words and ideas they found, scouring for commonalities and discovering several repetitive themes woven throughout the fiber of NIU.

Phrases included “customer service,” “innovation,” collaboration,” “access to education,” “shared governance,” “stewardship,” “student success” and “civility.”

Four were immediately evident: Excellence. Integrity. Collaboration. Diversity.

Three more themes were commonly used in mission and value statements across campus: Public Purpose/Impact. Caring. Social Justice.

“We feel very comfortable with not only our product but how we arrived at the product,” McCoy said.

“It wasn’t just us sitting down and noodling this up. The core of this was us going through most of the areas and corners of the university and looking at all we had. It wasn’t like we had to dream it up.”

Next, the group pondered the best way to distill its work toward greater conversation – and to stimulate ethical decision-making and behavior among students, faculty and staff.

“In an attempt to capsulate these values in a descriptive and memorable way, and to bring more clarity to the meaning of EIL, Pam Smith devised the acronym, ‘LIVE: Leadership Inspired by Values and Ethics,’ ” McCoy said.

Smith is an NIU Board of Trustees professor and the KPMG Professor of Accountancy in the NIU College of Business who counts ethics among her areas of expertise.

As master of ceremonies at President Baker’s inauguration Nov. 13, 2013, she provided the audience with some early insight on the pillar.

Pam Smith
Pam Smith

“Individually and collectively, we can inspire, motivate and empower those around us. How? By modeling behavior that inspires others to be the best of themselves by living our values every day,” she said from the stage of the Carl Sandburg Auditorium. “I see those core values in faculty and staff: respect, honesty, integrity, trying to do the right thing.”

Nearly three years later, Smith believes the “LIVE” acronym will resonate and foster courage throughout NIU’s fabric of “strong, caring individuals with Midwestern values.”

Ethical behavior also must grow from the “bottom up,” she said.

“Leadership is not just at the top. It’s everybody. I believe the values at NIU spring up from the bottom up – not the top down. Values are what are displayed in the choices and actions of students, faculty and staff on a daily basis,” she said.

“You try to do your best every day. You try to live your values every day,” she added. “What’s important is what you do on a daily basis – how you treat others, how you do your job, how you do what you’re supposed to do. In other words, LIVE your values every day.”

McCoy and Smith, with the help of the group, also created an acronym for the word “ethics.”

  • E: embracing diversity and inclusion while celebrating differences
  • T: teaching and learning at an exemplary level of excellence
  • H: helping others through caring and purposeful promotion of the greater good
  • I: integrity in upholding the highest principles of honor and respect
  • C: collaboration that sustains meaningful and lasting relationships
  • S: stewardship in responsible, long-term management of resources

McCoy, who is proud of the work his group has conducted to summarize the core values of NIU, is excited to see how the LIVE movement will spread and flourish.

LEAD logoAcknowledging, applauding and living ethics and values can ease the journey through difficult times, he added, mentioning the current state budget impasse.

And he’s already eager to share NIU’s commitment to ethics during the annual Ethics Case Competition Day, scheduled Friday, April 8, in Barsema Hall. President Baker is the keynote speaker at the event, sponsored by the LEAD (Leaders in Ethics and Academic Discipline) student group.

“Our hope – our goal – is to help everyone understand that NIU really is on the right track. We have some good things going on,” McCoy said, “and we have a foundation of Ethically Inspired Leadership. President Baker was really onto something when he included this as part of his vision.”

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