Do leaders have to be bullies to get results? Can a strong leader be strong and effective but still exceptionally nice? Curt Pederson, the University of Portland’s CIO. is a savvy negotiator, skilled manager, key relationship builder and all of the other things you’d expect someone who’s held major leadership positions throughout the state for the past several decades to be. But he’s also the one at the office who remembers everyone’s birthday, who knows the names of everyone’s children, and who takes the time to find a common thread with every employee. In short, he’s one of a kind. We wanted to find out more about the origin of his paradoxical leadership style and also more about how he views the multigenerational workplace, a topic he was invited to speak about recently with other top level managers at the CIO forum in Portland.
In this podcast, Curt talks about working in his family’s business, why he values the relationships he has with his 44 employees, his outlook on life, and other inspiring topics. Curt is the impetus behind IS’s signature slogan “We listen. We care. We respond.”
It’s not what you take, it’s what you leave behind…You look through the windshield, not through the rear view mirror. I very rarely look back and I don’t have a lot of worry and regret.
Complete transcript available in PDF format
From Our Conversation:
Sam: We had you on today because we wanted to talk about your style of management and some of the things you embody as a leader and one of the things you brought to the University of Portland that I know my department embraces and I know many others in IS do as well is this idea of ‘We listen, we care and we respond’.
Maria: Can you tell us a little bit about where that came from?
Curt: I can. That’s something that I’ve used for 25 years. It’s been with me, historical context, I’ve been in five diverse CIO jobs in the last 25 years. I was at a public utility, workman’s comp, state CIO, Oregon State University, Oregon University and now UP, all as a CIO. My bio know includes having a CIO gene which is something I just discovered it because I retired from Oregon State University December 2012. I obviously had no hobbies or no desire to have a lot of leisure time and it kind of drove me crazy. It influenced me – also I had a couple health issues and I realized how precious life is and I just sort of said to my wife ‘I’m not done yet’. I’m going to go out and do something else and the neat thing in my life was I was able to choose something to do, I wanted to do, that I would love to do and that I didn’t have to do. That’s such a good freeing thing.
My overall philosophy as I’ve worked 25 years and in mainly the public sector, it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave behind and I wasn’t through leaving stuff behind. I had a passion to try and go out and make a difference again. My arrival at UP April 2013, it was great other than when I arrived the morale seemed low. There had been some tragedy, the turnover was pretty high and it was actually more attractive because it was more challenging. You didn’t just come in and say well that’s a hard act to follow, it was a hard act to follow and I’m better for it. There’s 44 employees at UP in IT, three departments – tech services, academic technology services, web and enterprise services – it was just a great mix of certain functions and skills.
My initial focus was on engaging the leadership team and all the employees. I got to know them, I got to know their family. I don’t have any here but what I have here I let down. I decided to be a participant and really got to know people whether it was bowling or battle of the bands or whatever was coming up.
I also have a philosophy that says ‘You look through the windshield, not the rear view mirror’. I very rarely look back and I don’t have a lot of worry and regret. Now I finally get to ‘We listen, we care, we respond’. I have used that slogan or tagline or philosophy at least three or four times in the 25years. I started using it and it always was for the same reason. I came into a new job and they had giant posters on the wall that had mission, goals, objectives, plans, whatever it was and no one could remember what they said. I have this philosophy that don’t do anything like that unless you can print it on the back of your business card so that’s where I came up with ‘We listen, we care, we respond’ and people have said for many years well what does that mean. I say exactly what it says – whether it’s a student, whether it’s a colleague, whether it’s somebody that directly reports to me, just really do active listening, care about their issue and then respond and responding doesn’t always mean yes. Responding could be an alternative, responding could be no but you owe them the response that you give them and it’s worked really well for me. I don’t have to remember lofty goals or missions or a lot of objectives and I go back to that.
As I was here the first year, I started having employees tell me that that works. Then I had customers that saw it as a byline on someone’s email and they mentioned the director whether it was Sam or Lisa or Michelle or Ann and they say I’ve seen evidence of that at work. They listened to me, they cared and they responded and I’m really happy.