Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Motivating winners

Q: The Washington Capitals, longtime laggards in the NHL, are now seen by many as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. How do you take an organization from failure to dominance? How many leaders are bold enough to esentially blow up the enterprise, as owner Ted Leonsis did, and build it back up?

"Blow it up!" was a phrase I had to use with some frequency in my early years as Trinity's president. My beloved college was caught in the downward cycle of "We've always done it this way!"

But practices that generated great success in the 1960s could not work in the 1990s and beyond, and change became urgent. "Change," I quickly learned, is one of the most reviled words in our language.

Organizational change is essential to generate institutional success. Oddly, however, the very change that can make institutions successful often encounters great resistance from the organization's biggest supporters. Whether a professional hockey team like the Washington Capitals or a university like Trinity, keeping the fans or alums happy while accomplishing what's necessary to ensure success is a tricky balancing act.

Early on, I learned that a successful change leader needed two somewhat opposing talents: the ability to communicate constantly with constituents about the changes that must occur, and nerves of steel to make the change happen in spite of the inevitable emotional opposition.

When George Steinbrenner fired Joe Torre because the Yankees were not winning enough World Series titles, many fans were outraged that their beloved manager was gone. When I had to eliminate under-enrolled major programs to free up resources to invest in more productive programs, alums were outraged that their cherished majors no longer existed.

The successful leader knows that the constituents will return when the organization's success is clear. When the Yankees won the World Series last fall, skipper Joe Girardi was the toast of Broadway, while Joe Torre languished in L.A. When Trinity's new nursing program propelled enrollments to previously unimagined heights, alumnae cheered -- even those whose majors have disappeared from the roster.

Corporate historians revel in the tales of businesses that failed to embrace the need for change. In the Washington region, venerable corporate names like Garfinckle's, Woodward & Lothrop, Hechts and Hechinger all failed because their business models could not change with the times. Local colleges and universities also disappeared over the years when they could not change quickly enough: Dunbarton, Mt. Vernon, Southeastern.

Understanding market trends, aligning products with consumer demands, establishing a relentless culture for innovation and excellence --- these are all part of the toolkit of change leaders in failing organizations.

Measuring success for sports teams is a fairly simple exercise.Ya gotta win! Winning is not just about assembling talent, however, as Dan Snyder has learned to his sorrow. Winning also requires desire, confidence, teamwork and motivation. Snyder can buy all the players he wants, but he can't buy heart, passion or the magic of a successful team.

If the Caps win the Stanley Cup, Ted Leonsis will be a hero, and Wizards fans will then have hope that he might also turn around that unhappy basketball franchise.

Maybe he can then take over the Redskins.

By Patricia McGuire  |  April 19, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  creative destruction Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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From a proud Trinity U. grad under McGuire's watch, good info indeed. Too bad, most leaders view change as bad - unless they i nitiate the change or want "change" to get rid of someone.

Posted by: kedavis | April 21, 2010 12:38 PM
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Sounds like you 'get it.' Whatever you do, don't hire Virginia Bianco-Mathis as an executive coach. All her answer was missing were a few more industry-speak phrases like 'paradigm shift' and 'circle back' and 'outside the box' to make it a complete consultant's dream script.

Posted by: the_local | April 21, 2010 11:06 AM
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