When I was a student in the late ’60s, Carolina faced many challenges. The University was fortunate to have as its chancellor the late J. Carlyle Sitterson ’31, whose special qualities as a leader were highly effective during a turbulent time. A little more than 10 years ago, as the Carolina Alumni Review looked back on what was then the 50-year history of the chancellorship at Carolina, I reflected on that era in an essay — updated and excerpted below — titled “Relationships and the Power of ‘We.’ “As Carolina has grown over the past decade, the power of “we” continues to be important to remember.
As a native of Kinston, a historian and having earned three degrees from Carolina, Lyle Sitterson understood the history of North Carolina and the important role the University plays in our state. He knew that for several generations, most of North Carolina’s most prominent political and professional leaders were Carolina alumni. He understood that our largely rural state placed a special value on each individual. He knew that to earn respect as a leader of our campus, he needed to draw upon the personal relationships that he developed in the classroom, as a longtime dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, in his church and as a resident of Chapel Hill. Sitterson drew upon the personal relationships he and his devoted, talented partner and spouse, Nancy ’41, developed in the 30 years that preceded his chancellorship. On many occasions, their friends across campus alerted both Nancy and Lyle to opportunities and challenges that they might otherwise not have known about through formal channels.
For 163 years, your alumni association has been about the business of building relationships, reconnecting Carolina alumni with our University, helping you retain the special relationships that you developed while in Chapel Hill with classmates and faculty. And, happily, you need not return to Chapel Hill to reconnect with Carolina. Our local Carolina Club in your hometown, class and affinity group reunions, enrichment programs in your community, alumni tours and, of course, the Review all help you to stay informed and involved with UNC.
Chancellor Sitterson had another quality that made him so effective, and that was an appreciation for what is often referred to as the power of “we.” Early in my transition as alumni director, an alumnus shared with me the often-noted quote — “It’s amazing what people can accomplish if they have no concern about who receives the credit.”
Our most effective leaders possess interpersonal skills that draw people to them. They motivate others in pursuit of shared goals. Lyle Sitterson understood that to get something accomplished it was wise to allow others to think that his idea was really theirs . He seldom used the pronouns “I” and “my” but often rioted what “we” could accomplish and called attention to ” our” challenges.
In election years, it is unusual to hear candidates who don’t invoke the pronouns “I” and “my.” Yet power, title and position alone cannot move an organization, a university, a state or a nation forward. Earning the trust and respect of those closest to you, who in the organizational chart may report to you, is important if they are to contribute all that they can and should. They want to and should believe that they are part of a team that is moving toward a shared vision. That vision must reflect an understanding of the culture of the community, the organization, state, university or nation. For organizations don’t work; people do.
Fortunately for Carolina, like Chancellor Sitterson, our University’s great leaders have understood that their success depended upon their understanding that ours is a “we” university, one that respects and values the individual contributions that each student, each staff member, each faculty member and, yes, each alumnus and each alumna can make. They speak about “our” campus, “our” administration and “our” teams, and they express joy and pride in what “we” have accomplished, how “we” serve, and what dreams “we” share. Relationships, forged over many years, have encouraged all those who care about Carolina to continue to contribute to its development in serving our state and nation.
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70