Douglas J. Walters has over 45 years of experience as an educator, administrator and consultant. Most recently, he is the president and founding partner of Transformation Specialists LP. Prior to that he served as a teacher & administrator for the Kanawha County Board of Education, adjunct professor at Marshall University, and Dean of Students at the University of Charleston and the College of the Marshall Islands. He is a widower, father of two sons and grandfather of four. Additionally he is an author of several journal articles & co-authored a book on civic engagement/deliberation and work in higher education.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Deliberation and the Work of Higher Education Book
- Transformation Specialists: Strengths Based Strategies for Success
- For more information, email Doug at walters.douglasj
- For more information, email Doug at walters.douglasj
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“Students know when you care. Students know when you are sincere. Students know if you respect them and then they will rise to the occasion if they feel those three things are in place.”
Hey, hey! It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast. I am thrilled to be on the line with Doug Walters today. He is somebody that I’ve known ever since I was in high school actually. And he was an instructor at this program called the Summer Honors Program, which was a local academic camp that I participated in and actually the place where I met my husband. So I had Doug for an instructor one year and just really enjoyed it in him and appreciated him. He did it for so many years at that program. It’s a really special thing so we’ll probably talk a little bit about that.
Andrea: But Doug, thank you so much for being here on the Voice of Influence podcast.
Doug: Well, thank you very much Andrea. I’m very glad to be with you today.
Andrea: So Doug, maybe we should start by telling the listeners just a little bit about SHP, the Summer Honors Program.
Doug: I’ll be very happy to. Well, the program, Andrea, started in 1978 as an outgrowth of trying to provide academic stimulation for students in Nebraska especially South Central Nebraska. And I was very fortunate to have a friend of a friend who recommended me to be one of the instructors in this very intensive two-week program in 1978.
Andrea: And you weren’t living in Nebraska?
Doug: No, no. At that time in _____, at this point live in Charleston, West Virginia. So the program has grown in most tremendously over the last 40 years. In fact the summer program ended almost toward the end of June and the program celebrated its 40th anniversary, and I have been fortunate enough that my schedule and work life and family life was able to be there 33 out of the 40 years.
Andrea: Which is amazing, so you have seen a lot of life in Nebraska at this Summer Honors Program and how it changed and how students have changed over the years and all that sort of thing, which I do want to ask you about but maybe not quite yet.
Andrea: So what was your role at Summer Honors Program because you retired this year is that right?
Doug: Yeah, I felt that it was time for me to sort of hang up my boots so to speak so that I will give other instructors the opportunity. I taught the social sciences, Andrea. Basically, _____ have to do primary and secondary research and the one thing that I had the great luxury with was that I was able to take and explore the various social sciences. So one year, it may focus on sociology, the next year it could have been psychology. Many times, it was on history whether it was a regional or American or world history. So I had a platform that afforded me great variety over the years. It’s a very tight as you well know having been a student in the process, a very tight two weeks of intensive academic focus.
The students are nominated and then they take entry exams to be admitted to the program. In fact, there are 10 academic areas in the entire SHP process. The number of students that I had in the program varies between about 10 to 14, which was perfect for small group discussion but yet doing teamwork. And so I was able to do that with great success in working with these wonderful, mostly rural, bright, articulate, and talented high school students. And for example this year, I focused on psychology and I like to get into that a little bit more later on in our discussion but one of the keys of the program was a very intense structure that I had students seven and half hours a day.
And for any educators, especially high school teachers that are out there listening to the podcast, you know that when we change classes every 45 to 55 minutes depending upon the type of schedule that the high school has, you have to start up and you have to _____ every day. And so once we get started in the program, we had a quality full seven to seven a half hours a day of concentrated work. So the contact hours are usually varied between 70 and 75 hours, and boy can you cover a lot of ground in that amount of time?
Andrea: And it’s so interesting because the students, and once they get there, it’s so fun. It’s a totally different kind of environment than school. I think when you pick out those kids that are really interested in digging into a topic for a while; I mean it’s a different environment.
Doug: Yes, and it’s very intense. It’s really interesting, as you well know, students could go multiple years but most students don’t go more than two years. But when you get of what we call rookie when she or he comes along and they see the amount of work that’s going to be done, they’re somewhat intimidated the first day or so. But once we get into the rhythm of the process, we found, and not just myself but over the last 40 years, all of the instructors just really developed fine academic opportunities for these students. And in many cases, we didn’t always stay in the classroom, lots of field research and lots of fieldtrips built into the entire program. And in fact, I think your brother-in-law, Chris, had the opportunity to go with me when I took a group of students to Brazil in 1999.
Andrea: Yes and why did you take them to Brazil?
Doug: Well, part of life has been filled with a great deal of travel and it was the history and cultures around the world and I’ve been involved with an organization. We have about 40 years called the Partners of the Americas and West Virginia sister state is in a small state of Espiritu Santo, which is right north of Rio de Janeiro and we made arrangements. These students were my class for two years. We made a two-year commitment and so I was able, along with another teacher and the two of us, took them down for two full weeks and it was one of the best experiences I think I ever had and I think with students also did that.
Andrea: Wow that’s amazing. I mean, it really is amazing to think of taking students to another country for two whole weeks but you also did a lot of prep work the year before so that was just a deep kind of work, deep experience that I’m sure it’s just had life changing results.
Doug: Yeah, I think so. I mean, any time that I’ve ever travelled internationally with students which has been a number of times, I have found that once they had that kind of educational experience and had interactions with people from a different culture, it really changes who they are to their very core. And I’ve had lots of follow up with some of the students that was in that class in 1998 and 1999 and they would tell me that it still remains one of the highlights of their lives.
Andrea: Oh yeah, I’m sure. Well, I would say that the Summer Honors Program for me even though I never travelled anywhere, I was there four years, and man, it had a significant impact on me. Maybe part of that had to do with just the idea that you could, first of all, be around people who are also interested in going deep into one particular topic. Aaron and I very lovingly call it “nerd camp” and then you go to this place where there’s a lot of other people that are interested in digging in like you, and all of sudden it’s just fun. There was a lot less concern about popularity and that sort of thing. I mean I say fun even though it was a lot work but it felt like fun work because it’s not the same as just kind of memorization things like that.
Doug: Right. You know, one of my personal educational philosophies is what I call, making sure the students have an opportunity to do what I call enhanced hands-on learning. And because all of these was in many cases primary research, for example one year we did an analysis of all the elections trends in Nebraska over a hundred year period. And we took students into different county courthouses and back to the primary _____ records of people in different communities and looked at through the analysis that was obviously not in the classroom. And keep in mind, Andrea, most of the time that this program has been in place at least 30 of 40 years and was without internet, was without computers. And so the methodology that is used in the program has really changed over the last 40 summers.
Andrea: You know that leads me to one of the questions that came up when I asked, we have a Summer Honors Program alumni group and I just let those people know that I was interviewing you and I asked them if they had any questions, and one of the questions that came up was how do you, over the years, structures, restructures know what to keep and what to change? So obviously, the internet had something to do with that. Have the students changed over the years?
Doug: That’s a really good question because one of the things that happened over 40 years is that the students have not changed in the sense of the quality of their ability to work hard, good work ethic, interested in learning, and fascinated by new possibilities. There has been that consistency throughout the entire program. You know, in taking back, Andrea, over the 40 summers, I don’t think there was any dramatic change other than in technology equipment that came along for some of the classes for example in the summer of 1978, there would never had an opportunity for a class in filmmaking taken place because the technology in a portable way wouldn’t allow that.
And so one, students haven’t changed. Their interests are much broader than they were 40 years ago and I think that is the because of the increase of various types of technology and media. I have found that students, first of all they want to be there. It was a competitive process and they’re interested in the subject matter in which they found themselves whether it’s in creative writing or if it’s in science or geology you know whatever happens to be. So you don’t have to worry about motivating the students and so that is a tremendous help.
One of the things that I learned very early on was that their appetite for new knowledge, new range, new strategies, new methodologies for learning just right up over this entire time period. I have found that they’ve great flexibility in the way that you approach teaching class, for example, in this year’s class, after the first year in the program teaching, I learned very, very quickly that I had to be over prepared because the very first year I was there, I thought I had enough materials to teach for two solid weeks and by Wednesday of the first week, I was out of materials.
Andrea: Oh that’s hilarious!
Doug: And so I would rush home every night no matter where I was, I would rush home, prepare research keeping in mind no internet. And so after that, I’m always being over prepared and in many times, they even push the limits under that sort of circumstances because we’re talking about such a bright young group of young men and women. And then the other thing that did change was their awareness when they came into the class of the world around them was much more propelled and deep today than it was in the 80s, simply impulsive than exposed in ways that you know students and myself included who were not exposed to in the early days of the program.
Andrea: It’s really interesting. It’s sounding to me like a lot of time you hear this “kids these days” kind of comment about the younger generation and I’m not hearing that from you at all.
Doug: No, you will never find me saying that. First of all, students know when you care. Students know when you are sincere, students know if you respect them. And if you have those three elements introduced from the very beginning of the class, and I’m talking not just in this particular program but I think it’s still true today in most high schools for all students, and then they will rise to the occasion if they feel those three things are in place. And I never doubted anytime in my teaching in Nebraska that there was ever a student that didn’t want to be there.
Now that’s not to say that once you get to know the students especially about the second week, you can tell if something happened the day before and they were not on focus. And then because the program is so all encompassing with emotional and counseling support, we were able to do some interventions over the years with some students that would have fallen through the cracks had it been a regular academic year.
Andrea: And it’s a special place, there’s no doubt about it and they’re going to miss you I’m sure. So Doug, I’m curious about what you’re doing now and how you got to where you’re at now like what is the story arc of Doug’s career?
Doug: Well, if someone had told me that when I started teaching in 1965 that I would have walked of the hallowed halls of academia from K through doctoral programs or that I would be working in the corporate world as a leadership coach, I _____ crazy. And so I have been blessed, Andrea, with my path being fairly clear through most of my life and I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had opportunities that afforded me some diversion from what my original academic career would have been. I think teaching is a noble profession and everything aside in my life that I’ve done from a professional standpoint, the place where I have gotten the greatest joy and the greatest amount of satisfaction has been in teaching and I’ve had at all levels that you can teach in. And I’ve been blessed with students that were receptive.
But along the way, I was a classroom teacher then I was a school administrator for a number of years, and along the way embedded in that and even when I was in the administration, I was teaching in higher ed as an adjunct professor and then lead me to the central office at a large school system here in West Virginia where I was working with teachers as well as students in making sure that they were prepared for the test of the day. I retired early because I had an opportunity to become a dean of students at the University of Charleston here in West Virginia.
It was an unusual set of circumstances that I was called, I was still a fulltime employee and the president of the university at that time said, “We need you here at your alma mater to help us move forward.” I said “OK let’s talk.” And so I made the decision and it was a very difficult decision because I love my job, what I was doing. I had great opportunities at that particular point and I was a dean at two colleges or universities over a period of a little over 10 years. One at the University of Charleston, which was an immense joy in my life and once again, I got to work directly with students but in a different way of leading and teaching.
Andrea: I’m curious, you said that they called you and said we need you, why you think and why did they say that they needed you? What did you have to bring to that situation whatever it was that they would call you?
Doug: Well, it’s very interesting about my professional career and to some degree in my personal life. I’ve always been the person that had the skills set, God-given skill set to be able to bring people together to have conversations. And so therefore, they felt that they needed someone on campus that was going to help them grow and become a residential university and also to expand the university. It got themselves into a little bit I guess trouble with the community because the university wants to expand into the neighborhood and the neighborhood thought that they were being encroached upon.
And so the president called me and said “Can you help us do this?” And so I did. I came onboard. The community protested did not want anybody to build the change in campus. They wanted to keep it the same, but we also knew that we had to build new residence halls and we’re going to expand student body and become residential.
So over a period of about nine months, I have literally, and this is no exaggeration, sat in the living room, the kitchen, or the patio of every home that bordered the university. It took me six months to do that along with everything else that I had responsibility for. So I started in September to May, at the end of the academic year, I got the approval of the neighbors, the zoning board, and the city council and there were no negative votes.
Doug: I don’t want to be prideful here but I’ve always been able to get people to talk and to listen and to present both sides. And so that has followed me throughout my life, not only in that city but also when I was the dean of students in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific for a couple of years, and able to do that with some organizations in which I’ve been part of the leadership. So it’s been a very interesting journey because I had that reputation and so I was able to do that and I feel very happy about that.
Andrea: I don’t think that’s prideful at all, I think it’s being able to own who you are and communicate that clearly, and obviously, it’s a gift that you have that you’ve been able to give others. And when they know what that is then they can utilize that gift of yours and I’m really interested in this because this is the Voice of Influence podcast, right?
Andrea: This is about voice. It’s about how we communicate and what is unique about our style of communication even that makes us fit for certain things. So the fact that they looked to you for that, it just makes so much sense. You know, you took the Fascinate Assessment which I invite guests to take and it’s just an indication of what your voice is and how to categorize the way that you communicate. You came out Innovation and Alert and I know that Passion applied for you as well because passion is about relationships, so obviously that makes sense.
But then Innovation being willing to take risks and see your way around obstacles and then Alert, you know, crossing every t and dotting the i’s making sure I guess it’s preventing problems with care. And so it makes so much sense that you would be the perfect person to come in and make sure that every single one of those, you know, to sit down everyone of those porches and have these conversations and make sure that there were no ‘no’ votes. I love it. It’s brilliant!
Doug: And one of the things if I may take that as a point, I helped co-author a book several years ago about the concept of deliberation in higher education along with a few other people. And I want to talk with you about one of the things that I’ve learned in that journey working, being innovative and thinking outside the box and yes I am a risk taker. I was not surprised by the results of the Fascinate, so one of the things that I feel very passionate about is the whole concept of deliberation and civic discourse conversations.
You know, it has a variety of names and one of the things that I’ve championed in my life and work especially now in my business, Transformation Specialist, working and coaching the CEO’s, leaders across a broad spectrum in education, in government, and in business in the nonprofit world and there are four things that I think make influence more powerful if you will, Andrea.
Andrea: Oh please that’d be great!
Doug: I called these the 4Ps of Leadership. The first P is called Plants. Basically, plant the idea, the seed and you had to tend to it and nurture it as needed. In other words in the context of learning in the classroom or working with the leader whose organization is in a little bit of trouble, you can’t plant something if you don’t tend to it and you don’t nurture it. And so that’s what many leaders do I think across the whole spectrum of leadership, not only in this culture because I’ve worked in the number of countries overseas and this is true there also, so the first P is Plant. The second P is Process. You’ve got to work to process of the idea giving it time.
I have found that in the corporate world in particular, you have leaders that understand process that they don’t give it time to sort of rise. If you’re making biscuits, we have to let the dough rise before you cut them and put them in the oven. So you’ve got plants and you’ve got process. The third P is what I call, you got to tamper your leadership with Patience as the idea, the seed takes root and develop. If you don’t have patience as a leader your influence either never there or it wanes overtime.
So we’ve got Plants, Process, Patience and then fourth one which for me is the easiest because of the kind of personality and style I have and that is you’ve got to model Personal Relationship for those responsible for developing implementing the new idea in seed. So it goes back to what we were saying at the beginning of the podcast and that is when a student knows the teacher respects them, the teacher likes them, the teachers respects them that personal process is there. These are my 4P’s and so when I’m coaching and working, this is one of the things that I talk with people about.
Andrea: Oh yeah that’s really good stuff. Is that in this book that you helped to co-author?
Andrea: And what is the name of that book?
Doug: The name of the book is called, Deliberation and the Work of Higher Education. We wrote this book with a wonderful research foundation called the Kettering Foundation out of Dayton, Ohio and it has a 2008 date. You can call the Kettering Foundation.
Andrea: Well, I will. If there’s a link to that, I will definitely link that in the show notes so that people can go get that. Yeah, those 4P’s, I mean this idea of having good conversations that could result in change, it’s a hard thing to accomplish but we need people like you out there facilitating these conversations and helping us dialogue so that we can move forward together. So I’m just really glad that you’re out there talking about this sort of thing.
Doug: Well, I appreciate that. It’s been one of the mainstays, you know, I didn’t formalize the 4P’s until we started writing the book. It has become a cornerstone of my consulting work and it also God’s have taught also.
Andrea: Yeah. The deep need that people have to know that you care and that you’re sincere and that you respect them, I mean that just opens up hearts to be able to receive whatever it is that you’re wanting to offer.
Doug: Yes, very much so, very much so.
Andrea: So let’s say, you’re in the middle of talking about your work as a dean of students to a couple of universities and then where did you go from there?
Doug: Well, I retired the second time. I have formally retired twice. I thought, I would do some traveling and just relax with my family. I was beginning to have grandchildren and three months into the process, I knew I was going to serve. I lost my wife to breast cancer during this period and I know myself well enough that I had to have a goal. I had to have something that I did each day and so to that extent, I said I can do this. Then I had a couple of friends and I said to them, “You know, let’s see if anybody wants us.”
And so what we were able to do was we formed this company called Transformation Specialists, LP so about 10 years I live and doing consulting work. The other individuals have all fulltime jobs and do their own thing and I’m sort of like have the mobility to go out. So we work in higher ed. We work for profit business. We work with nonprofit business and we’d never advertise one time, Andrea. It’s all been word of mouth and so at any one time, we can manage the complexity of maybe four to six clients and then at the same time, I went back to the University of Charleston and helped teach in their MBA program.
Andrea: With Transformation Specialists, do you have a stated mission?
Doug: Yeah, it’s a very simple phrase. It says strengths-based strategies for success. And so we take the positive approach to working with an organization. We go in and we do lots of analysis. Usually, we start off with what is called an OHA, (Organizational, Health, Appraisal, or Audit) to find out what they’re successful with and then any challenges that may exist within the organization. And so over the last almost 10 years, we gone in and worked with organizations. We’ve had you know we’re with them for six months but we’d have some clients that we’ve been with for five years.
Andrea: OK, so your organizational health analysis and then you help them move toward organizational health?
Doug: Yes. What we do is go in and we do analysis of their services or products. We go in and look at efficiencies. We look at the landscape of the actual physical layout of the facilities. We’ve worked with some organizations that have multiple facilities and so we go in and we start off with the leadership team of determining of their social styles. We’ve got some instruments that we use to look at what are their strengths. And so we always approach it upfront not from the deficit standpoint but from a strengths standpoint because most organizations you’ll find, you know what’s wrong with you, let’s take it to the doctor and give you a physical from that standpoint and so we do the reverse of that. It’s almost like a preventive care management program if our medical world looks like that.
Andrea: Uh-hmm kind of positive psychology starting with strengths instead of weaknesses.
Andrea: And so do you use the StrengthsFinder in your…
Doug: Yes. It’s one of the best we use. We also use David Merrill Social Styles. We also use Maslach Burnout Inventory. One of the things that we have found in many, many case is that the individuals’ maybe burnout and sometimes we’ve gone into organizations and of course, we can only make recommendations. If the organization is not willing to listen to us, we make a very quick decision and we exit almost within the first three to five weeks of working with an organization and that’s only happen to us in all these years twice.
Andrea: How can you tell?
Doug: Well, when they don’t take your suggestions and your observations and there’s always a “but you don’t understand” or “but” this calls that to take place. And so it all starts with the CEO and the management team of the organization. So what we do is that we absolutely make sure that everybody in leadership capacity and down one or two tiers in management know what their strengths are, know what their social styles is.
And so what happens is we have found that if you have an organization, let’s be hypothetical here, let’s say an organization has six managers and four people that are the CEOs, COOs and CFOs and if all of them are drivers, guess what happens? They’ll kill each other and there are arguments. They don’t get along. They can’t figure out what it is if they’re all analytical. They’re always seeking to have more data, more information before any decisions are made.
So once we identify and everybody knows everybody else’s style and their strengths, you don’t have that. In fact, we got into an organization where we post them at the entrance, and their office or their cubicle. And so you would find out very quickly that I am for example and I’m using David Merrill’s work, I am an expressive which you probably would understand that. It is you know an expressive, someone who’s intuitive, thinks outside the box, and rebels a little bit and how you consider that and how you consider this.
And if you know, you got all four quadrants and all the potential strengths out of StrengthsFinders in your organization, you can then have a balance of leadership team creating and awareness of why you don’t necessarily get along with someone would be a driver may not get along with an analytical because the driver wants to process and get things done rather quickly. Analytical doesn’t want to do that. They always want more information or data and so we massage that and work with that. As I said, we have worked with and had great opportunities even in the corporate world and of course that was an interesting experience, transitional experience for us and that sometimes the table is not necessarily set the same way as it is in education in particular. Of course you know my foundation or work is from there.
And so what happens overtime is that we find out what your strengths are and how to balance that and we’ve got several organizations to make it part of their HR process. If for example you’re looking for and you’ve got five divisions in your organization and they’re all going really well, your division head retires or moves on to another position and you want to maintain balance in the style, in strengths of that person, you then look at that as a deciding factor if everything else is equal.
Andrea: So how do we fit together and finding the right fit.
Doug: How we fit together and then because going back to the whole concept of influence is that this absolutely helps influence the direction of the organization and we have found that we can make you healthy and we have found out overtime, in fact one of my co-boards in this a gentleman by the name of Anthony J. Marchese, PhD. and he has just written a book that I used in the program in SHP this summer and it’s called Design.
It is a book that plays upon our experiences and help how it really works because the full title of the book is called Design: An Owner’s Manual for Learning, Living, and Leading with Purpose. And so we have found that we each have a unique design and so we use that to create awareness, and I was able to do that this summer I think fairly successfully with students that I had in my class in Nebraska.
Andrea: So that awareness that were uniquely designed and even I assume finding out what that is, what that design is, what is that awareness do for people in your opinion or in your experience?
Doug: Well, I mean it’s really truly and Aha moment because of course the book was written not with high school students in mind to tell you the truth. It was written for the college level and people in career work of whatever level of the field that happen to be. And so what I wanted to see if it was applicable to high school students. And guess what, Andrea that it sure was and it was one of the great a-ha moments of my 40+ years in Nebraska. It was just absolutely wonderful and I’m still hearing from the students saying that “This has changed my life.” And I don’t think that there’s anything more rewarding for a teacher than to have a student say that to you.
Andrea: Why do you think they said that?
Doug: Well you know because we go back to how much time we were able to spend together?
Doug: So we had the luxury of time in dissecting this book and doing exercises in different strategies and processes in the two weeks that allowed them to look at things. For example, one of the things that we talked about is the whole concept of wonder. The literature is very specific about wonder. We lose it generally by the ages of 10 to 11. And so when I presented the very first series of exercises which dealt with wonder, they all looked at me and said “What do you mean wonder?” I mean, they know what it meant and I said what would those things that absolutely excited you when you were 4 years old or 7 or 9 years old? And they had to do some thinking about it.
But eventually, remember the 4P’s, you know, it’s about process and patience and so what happened was there was almost like an acrobatic kind of exercise, catharsis for the students in which they said, “I did lose it. I didn’t do this. I don’t do that any longer.” So that was one thing that we did and then the other one was that the book talks about birthright gifts. We’re all born with birthright gifts but we have a tendency in our culture to play them down and when we get so old, at certain age and the book details some examples of that.
And I found out that with the 13 students that I had this summer, they fell into the same category. They had forgotten about some of their birthright gifts. Now I want you to listen to this. I had one wonderful young woman in the class and so in the introductory exercises we do the first morning at the first week, she said “Well, I speak four languages.” And I looked at her so did everybody else and she has self-taught herself; Ukrainian, German, Japanese, and she’s taking Spanish academically.
Andrea: Wow, besides speaking English?
Doug: Yeah, besides speaking English. I was stupefied. It was one of the few moments in working these students that it sort of made me stop and pause that “Oh wow, I couldn’t do that.” And so she discovered that she has the birthright gift of linguistics but no one had ever actually talked to her about that and so we did some research on that for her.
Andrea: That’s awesome! That’s a good stuff. Yeah, you know, I mean I just resonate with so much of what you’re talking about and I got a chance to look at the book last night and get a really good feel for it and I loved it. I love Design that book and the things that you’re talking about. I think that that something that really drives me as well is that the desire to see people to instead of trying to figure out where they fit in, figure out how they fit together.
Andrea: I think even for myself when I was younger for sure, there’s this tension inside of younger people I think especially between trying to figure out if it’s okay to be who they are and yet wanting everybody to be like them. And so it’s hard for them to know to be able to respect the fact that somebody else is different and that’s okay and there’s a good way that we can fit together and you know that whole concept is so important in our formation of our purpose and our identity and understanding how that _____ in our lives and how we can turn that into something that comes out as a voice and then it make a difference, a voice of influence. So man, I just love all of this. I love what you’re doing. And is there anything else that you had thought about ahead of time that you want to mention today.
Doug: Well, I just think that in closing from standpoint, I believe all of us have a capacity to continue to grow and to learn. You know, culture has a way of sometimes limiting what we can do because they say, “By this age you should have done that. You stop studying, go get a job have a family and live happily ever after.” And I think that we live, Andrea, an era in which learning now and opportunities for learning is at its richest point in the history of mankind. And I believe that if we can figure out ways of capturing that and redesigning our public schools to include some of the kinds of things that we have talked about today we can really make some changes; I believe that this is going to make a huge difference.
I will tell you what I’m getting ready to do this fall, I’m working with the school system in which they listened to me, and we’ve been working on this process for several years and they finally agreed for us to go into a school system with two high schools and three middle schools to begin to introduce the concept of understanding self in design as part of the regular curriculum. And so we’ve committed ourselves to a five years research study to be able to do this in the school system and so I will start training the core group of 24 teachers in these three high schools and three middle schools.
And so we’re identifying six teachers at each of those schools to be trained in knowing about strengths, about social styles, a little basic kinds of skill set to identify issues that may impact learning in the classroom. And we’re going to start off with a control group about 90 students and follow them and see if we’ll not only can improve their ability to learn but also enhancing decrease the dropout rate because the school system is in an area of West Virginia in which they opened it unfortunately epidemic and crisis is hitting hard and it’s in the cow fields. And we believe that we can make a change in those kinds of cultural settings that we can do it any place in the country.
Andrea: That’s so exciting! Those students are just so blessed that they’re going to get to be part of that.
Doug: I hope so.
Andrea: Yeah. Before you go, I do have one more question for you. This one really comes from one of your fellow instructors at the Summer Honors Program.
Andrea: And I love this question and this is a great way to end I think. Doug, you have the most wonderful character, kind, out-of-you-way polite, humorous, generous, appreciative, and toughest nails when it comes to discipline and work, how much of your well recognized leadership skills would you attribute to character and how much to formal education?
Doug: Wow! I mean that is an unbelievably structured question and I appreciate the thoughts behind that. I believe that if you have a centered family, your character evolves in the first five to eight years of your life and if you have firm grounding principled parents and the family as a whole is nurturing and respectful of you that is somewhat like one of the cornerstones or part of the foundation of your potential as a human being.
One of the things that I believe, and I had to work at this because early on in my life, I was undisciplined in the sense that I wanted to be a little bit of everything for everybody. And I had to step back and figure out where do your strengths lie and this was long before StrengthsFinder or even some of the positive psychology research in the last 25 years and I said to myself “I’ve got to figure this out.” And so I was able to do that because I had strong support initially from my immediate growing up family and then I had it with my wife, my beautiful, wonderful Barbara.
And so, our marriage was a partnership and therefore we approach raising our sons in a partnership. And so we continued to do that but we had very, very high expectations of our boys and I’m proud to say that they’ve done very, very well and I’m just unbelievably blessed to have that. So I think you know, basically as combination of continued learning, I still was taking, Andrea, formal classes until three years ago and I’m 73. I started grade school when I was 5 and so I basically was in some kind of a formal or informal learning mode for 65 years of my life up until that point.
But you got to have people that believe in you also and if you got someone that believes in you and I think this goes by to the very first part of our conversation and that is the students know if you care for them and if your heart is there to help them do whatever they need to do and I think respect is part of it. But boy, they got to know that you have strong expectations.
Andrea: That’s a great way to end this conversation. Doug, thank you so much! Thank you for your voice of influence with students and on the world today and in organizations and for being here today on the podcast.
Doug: Well, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure!
Andrea: Well, listeners, Influencers listening, you just got a lot of wisdom dropped on you and I’ll be definitely putting all the links to the things that Doug mentioned, the books that he mentioned and his own information in the show notes. I encourage you to go care, be sincere and respectful and make your voice matter more.