In 1987, I was a young, inexperienced minister who was in way above his head. I assumed my first real professional role at age 25. To say I was “green” is understatement. In addition to serving university students at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX, I also served as an adjunct instructor of Biblical History and Literature in the English Dept. I was in survival mode. I taught three days a week, so lecture preparation was a daily challenge for a newbie. But periodically the phone would ring and it was none other than the president of the university on the other end of the line. Did I have time to have lunch with him? My immediate thought was: “Why does he want to have lunch with a peon like me?” In all likelihood, he had dined with a state senator or the mayor of Wichita Falls the day before.
I was privileged to dine with Dr. Lou Rodriguez at Olive Garden on several occasions. Two things stand out to me 27 years later. I was thinking about how to keep my head above water. Lou was thinking about dreams and plans a decade away. I learned something about visionary leadership from him. Dr. Rodriguez treated me like I was a tenured professor with years of experience. I never felt he was talking down to me or treating me in a patronizing manner. He spoke to me as If I was his equal.
He was one of the most effective leaders I have ever known. As the president of a state university, he had a vision for where that college could and should be in the distant future, then put into place the necessary steps to reach that goal. Today the university is reaping the benefits of his visionary leadership.
Dr. Rodriguez was not a pretentious man, but in his role as president, he had the responsibility and skill to hobnob with the most elite, powerful and influential people in society. Something that set him apart from other leaders, however, is that one would be just as likely to find him stopping to chat with a freshman student on campus, visiting with one of the janitors in the hallway, or taking a young campus minister out to lunch… These were not perfunctory visits; he truly valued and cared about people.
Earlier this week I received the news that this fine man passed away last month at age 81. I have not seen him for years, but the impression he made in my life is permanent. And I am reminded that the most effective leaders are not arrogant egotists. Competent leadership is demonstrated by a humble spirit. Today I am grateful for Dr. Rodriguez. (At age 52, I am still not ready to call him Lou!)