It’s time to pay it forward


“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants,” said Sir Isaac Newton.

I consider myself lucky to be able to think back upon my career and recall fondly the many leaders who helped me to see further. Some of them provided overt leadership, guidance, advice, an occasional scolding and – most important – opportunity.

Others I studied and learned from indirectly and tried to emulate their leadership traits. Even those who were less successful were my teachers in showing me the type of leader that I did not want to be. I stood on each of their shoulders as I progressed toward my career goals and I am eternally grateful.

This article comes from the August/September issue of AACC’s Community College Journal. Read the entire issue online.

Honoring my own leadership upbringing, I have tried to pay it forward. Many of you have heard me talk of the students, employees and mentees whom I have been privileged to serve during my career. I am very proud that so many of them are now college presidents themselves and continue to advance the community college mission. I am hopeful that they are now paying it forward themselves.

It’s your turn

We hear so often about the “giants” and about those they mentor, but what about you  –  the presidents and leadership team members who are leading at community colleges right now? Now it’s your turn.

It’s your turn to reach back and extend a hand to someone who may now benefit from your mentoring. It may seem as though you are still learning yourself (which, to be honest, I hope we all are). It may seem as though you are still leading from the middle, but the middle is the perfect place from which to lead.

The middle is where the action is. John Maxwell has written at length about leadership and he notes that “99 percent of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization.” From the middle, you have the best view of the organization and are able to work across departments and functions and to transcend the silos we tend to set up in our organizations. In doing so with the bigger strategic picture in mind, you are positioned to accomplish much and influence many. And, trust me, they are watching.

Don’t be alarmed by it. Remember, you did it, as well (and some of us still are). Watching those who model the behaviors of good leadership and emulating them is something that is taught in many leadership development arenas.

Always growing

Being seen as a leader does not mean you have reached the pinnacle of leadership. In fact, showing those who are watching that you value learning and growing as a leader will plant the seed that good leaders value continuous education, and personal and professional development.

While you are modeling the best leadership traits, others are standing on your shoulders and will one day pay it forward to the next generation.


About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.