Leadership Summit features lessons on vision, the power of words

PLAINVIEW – Contrary to the popular child’s chant – “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” – language can be one of the most powerful tools humans have in their arsenal, according to author Hal Urban.

Speaking to the audience at Friday’s Fourth Annual High Plains Leadership Summit at Wayland Baptist University, Urban shared his theories and research on the topic in a luncheon presentation titled “Positive Words, Powerful Results.” Taken from his book of the same name, Urban said he agrees with famous historian Will Durant, who said that the greatest achievement of the human race was the development of the spoken word, but noted that people must be aware of and careful with the words they use.

Using stories from his 36-year high school teaching career in California, Urban used examples like the tragic school shooting in Columbine, Colo., to point out that a constant barrage of negative sentiments really does begin to affect people of all ages. On the converse, he said that positive, reinforcing comments have a dramatic effect as well. In particular, an experience at a friend’s memorial service drove home this point.

Urban said the pastor at the service opened the floor up for others to share positive comments about the deceased friend, and the group spent an hour doing so. But he was left wondering if anyone had said those things while their friend was still living.

“I decided that a single good word means more to the living than a lot of kind things at their memorial service,” he said. “We never run out of loving words. Use them as often as you like to heal and bless yourself and others.”

Following the luncheon, afternoon breakout sessions featured Urban’s lesson on the four most important choices, which he said boiled down to a person’s character, integrity and attitude, and a session with Dr. Estelle Owens, university historian and professor of history, with a special guest appearance by Dr. James H. Wayland, the university founder, played by associate professor of religion Dr. David Howle. Using a medical bag of props, “Dr. Wayland” recalled historical moments of his life in Plainview, including the founding of the college in 1908, and related leadership lessons to be gleaned from those experiences.

“You will need to have a compass as you travel through your life, though not one ordered from Montgomery Ward and Company,” Howle said, holding a compass resembling one Dr. Wayland used to find his patients’ homes on the wide-open plains. “You will need a moral and spiritual compass to remind you of the right direction. Choose your compass carefully; it must be true and reliable. And pay attention to the directions it gives.”

Owens’ part of the session detailed leadership lessons to be learned from the Wayland presidents, and she chose five specific persons who modeled leadership excellence. The lessons included “when the hole is big enough, quit digging,” using the experiences of Dr. I.E. Gates, Wayland’s first president; “when there’s a choice between what’s right and what’s popular, do what’s right,” with the choices of Dr. Bill Marshall to ban smoking, end the football program and voluntarily integrate the college; “when the going gets tough, get over it,” detailing the resilience of Dr. George McDonald during the depression and war years; “realize there is no leadership without follow-ship,” recounting the experience of Dr. Glenn Barnett as interim president after a rough financial situation; and “when you’re a leader, you’re also a servant of the organization and its people,” detailing the sacrificial service of Dr. R.E.L. Farmer, who resigned as president to become a fundraiser and died in the influenza epidemic of 1918 due to his weakened, exhausted condition.

“You must communicate your vision to others and get them to buy into your vision,” Owens said of Barnett, whose brief time of service she credits with saving the struggling university and putting it on the road to mending. “He understood teambuilding and morale restoration in a place where both were in short supply. He took the time to talk to you and, more importantly, he listened to what people had to say.”

The summit also included the traditional presentation of the Legacy Leadership Award, presented to a person who had served the community, the university and others in general with selflessness and humility. Owens received the engraved award from Dr. Claude Lusk, vice president for enrollment management, who spoke about her credentials and longtime service to the university as professor of history and dean of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences but also emphasized her servant’s heart.

“God blesses us with visionary leaders that create a field of vision around them and draw others into the vision, and this institution was founded by just such an individual,” said Lusk. “Dr. Owens has been a true leader in the classroom and as a faculty member and has shared her vision for making Wayland a better place.”

Owens has been on the Wayland faculty since 1974, earning her bachelor’s degree at WBU in 1971, a master’s degree at Baylor University in 1973, and she holds a doctorate from Auburn University. She has been on numerous committees, presented for countless civic organizations and history conferences and is compiling the university’s history on its centennial anniversary.

The Leadership Summit is made possible in part by a grant from High Plains Concrete and the Wall family. Previous recipients of the Legacy Leadership Award include the late Gene Owen, longtime legal counsel for WBU; Phyllis Wall, longtime community volunteer; and Richard Miller, Hale County probation officer and pastor at Happy Union Baptist Church.