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Iran RPCV Shalala extols art of listening
Iran RPCV Shalala extols art of listening
Shalala extols art of listening
By Juana Jordan
DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
Those who know Donna Shalala can quickly pinpoint why the University of Miami president has had the career she's had. They say she's a good listener. And a risk taker.
Shalala agrees. In fact, she lists the two traits as the most important lessons she has learned in 30 years.
On Tuesday, before about 300 women attending the Professional Women's Forum at the Civic Center, she shared examples on how those traits shaped her career.
"Everyone doesn't get as lucky as I," Shalala said. "I had the advantage to move when others couldn't."
Shalala was the first speaker for this year's Professional Women's Forum luncheon series, put on by the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. It's held every other month at the Civic Center and focuses on issues important to businesswomen.
Throughout her successful career, Shalala said, she has taken advantage of opportunities and networked.
That was how she said she got the job in 1993 during the Clinton presidency as secretary of Health and Human Services. She served for eight years, longer than any previous secretary.
"I met the Clintons 30 years ago and kept in touch," she said. "Networking becomes a critical part in one's career. In my own career, it was meeting someone 30 years before."
Shalala said she took pride in the fact that, in her first three months on the job - one she said she wasn't fully qualified for - she ran the department without help from other presidential appointees. That gave her an opportunity to learn and understand the job once other appointments were made."I have a pattern of overreaching," she said. "I have said this before, the University of Miami presidency is the first job in which the consensus was that I was qualified for the job."
By then, Shalala said, she had learned the art of listening, adapting to her environment and assembling a team of people who could help her in her job. Hunter College in New York, where she served as president for seven years, was her training ground.
After getting the job at Hunter, Shalala said the first thing she did was conduct a survey on what should be the priority of the institution.
"I thought people would say more money or something like that," she said. "They said they wanted buildings to be safe and clean. The first thing I did was made the buildings safe and clean."
Shalala said she called security at Macy's, figuring the store had problems similar to those Hunter College faced. The college was open and exposed. It had no trees on campus and numerous entryways. Next, she said, she hired the people who cleaned the hospitals to clean the college.
"I combined inexperience with listening to others, and it gave me credibility," she said.
Shalala conducted a similar survey when she became president of the University of Wisconsin. She learned early from state officials who had children enrolled that the famed research institution didn't invest in its undergraduates. It valued its graduate and research students more, she said.
"So I went to find allies," she said. "I pulled together faculty who had kids at Wisconsin as undergraduates, and they told me that their children were having a hard time."
Today, Shalala said, Wisconsin doesn't lose undergraduate students to the Ivy League schools. And, she added, the university has a better relationship with the legislature.
"How we treated their kids helped us build bonds with the legislature," she said. "I listened."
Shalala recounted another incident, as University of Miami president, where her listening skills were required. Parking was an issue. Shalala suggested taking parking privileges away from freshman. Her staff members, who said the perk was a huge recruitment tool, suggested she wait a year to see why her idea wouldn't be an option.
Shalala said it was during the president's brunch that she learned why freshman having cars was important.
"As the parents came through the line to meet me, there would be a grandparent who would say to me how their grandchild would be able to come visit them," she said. "The freshmen needed the cars to visit their grandparents who stayed in South Florida. If I hadn't slowed down and listened, I would have missed a recruiting edge.
"So, in those 30 years, the most important thing I would say is that I learned to listen ...," Shalala said. "Even the most experienced person has to listen."
Education: A.B. degree in history from Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, and a Ph.D. from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.
Occupation: University of Miami president (2001)
Accomplishments: Two years in Peace Corps, in Iran; assistant secretary for policy research and development at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Carter administration; president of Hunter College (1980); chancellor of University of Wisconsin at Madison (1987); secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1993).
Please see SHALALA, 2E
Contact Juana Jordan at (850) 599-2321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.