Leonard Valverde (KNFP-5), Executive Director, Hispanic Border Leadership Institute; Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Arizona State University
This article was originally published in the March 2003 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
Leonard Valverde Quick Fact: As executive director of the Hispanic Border Leadership Institute, Leonard manages a consortium of eight higher education institutions working to improve the education of Hispanics in five southwestern states, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Leonard has many awards to his credit, including the Arizona Hispanic Administrator of the Year and the Edward S. Noyes Leadership & Service Award given by the College Board. His newest book, The Latino Student’s Guide to College Success, was published by Greenwood Press.
How have you, though your leadership, made a difference in one of your communities?
It’s hard to say how much of a difference one makes in the fight for social justice and economic equality. On the micro level, I think I've made a difference by touching the lives of the graduate and doctoral students I work with. As they graduate and advance their careers, I can see that I’ve made some contribution to sharpening their skills and reenergizing them and encouraging them to do right and good by others. On the macro level, it’s much harder to see. I hope that the kind of programs and initiatives that I’ve been involved with have put some bricks in place, allowing us to build a stronger and bigger foundation for the future.
What sustains you in your practice of leadership and your commitment to change?
I am sustained by continued resistance. The more resistance to what I see as positive change, the more energized I am to continue the struggle, the good fight. For me, it’s not about the successes; it’s about the opposition.
What do you consciously say to yourself or do that helps you stay on track with your goals?
I don’t think it’s so much what I say to myself, as what I see. I like to go out into communities, interact with community-based operations, with grassroots leaders, individuals who are working on the same kinds of concerns. I am but from more of a community base. I think observing them and just sensing their energy and their effort reinforces my efforts and keeps me on track.
How do you practice good self-care?
That hasn’t been very difficult for me. I started off, as most boys do, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, by taking up sports. What you do in high school carries on into later life. I’ve kept myself fit through sports, jogging, bicycling, and walking. I think the physical activity, more than anything else, has kept me balanced. It allows me to digress from serious thinking and continual involvement in important matters. It helps me gain perspective.
How do you measure success?
Clearly I don’t measure success in the traditional way, the accumulation of material wealth. Nor is it broad-based acclaim or recognition. Nor is it moving up and getting a more impressive title. It’s none of those things. I measure success in satisfaction. If it’s a project that I’m into, have I fulfilled the kind of objectives and outcomes that I think are do-able? If I’m trying to challenge a decision made by an institution or agency, have I been successful in getting the authorities to question or modify what they were doing? Overall, am I making a difference to improve the situation? It’s not scientific, it’s not quantitative, so it’s hard to know.
If you had to give an aspiring leader one piece of advice, what would it be?
First, I would say trust your instincts because instincts are the accumulation of life experiences and, without thinking, people act according to the sum total of their experiences. Second, I’d say stay the course. There’s always negativity, there’s always someone saying, ”You’ve done all you can. You’ve done as much as you can. Let somebody else do it.” There are always good people saying you’ve done enough. But there is always more that can be done. So I would say stay the course even though others, and even if you, think you’ve given more than you should or ought to. That’s when you should say to yourself, ”Continue on.”
How are you different or what do you do differently as a result of your exper:ience as a Kellogg Fellow? Why?
This might seem a bit unappreciative, but the Kellogg program didn’t do all that much to change me or other members of my group, to help us or to make us different. That’s not to say there was no effect. Perhaps I was more reinforced in my beliefs by coming in contact with some of the other fellows, with people I wouldn’t ordinarily have met. Also, the international trip to Peru solidified in me a stronger sense of commitment and greater appreciation for what this country is capable of doing.
Are you a better leader than you were five years ago? How do you: know?
I think so. The people who I have great regard for and who have been in similar kinds of significant roles would provide testimony to that effect. They would say that they have seen me grow and mature. Maybe that’s what it is, maturity. I think part of it is that I’ve consciously tried to attend to my own growth and development, not from a technical or skill base, but more from a deeper understanding about what it means to try to provide guidance and direction and to be a better servant.
Can leadership be invisible? How aad why have you practiced invisible leadership?
Yes, I think leadership can be invisible. In a way, invisible leadership and servant leadership are much the same thing. You’re not out in front, not visible, but as a servant you are doing what’s necessary to promote and advance the cause of others. You don’t necessarily have to be the spokesperson, you don’t have to be the person at the center of attention. As a servant to promote and advance an issue, you can prepare others, do the behind-the-scenes tasks that are essential and necessary for progress to be made.