About Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera
Dr. Cruz Rivera is the 17th President of Northern Arizona University (NAU). Since beginning his tenure in June 2021, he has worked with the university community to create a bold vision for a New NAU focused on the delivery of equitable postsecondary value and to enact several signature initiatives designed to position NAU as the nation’s preeminent engine of opportunity, vehicle of economic mobility, and driver of social impact.
Before joining NAU, Dr. Cruz Rivera served as President of Lehman College of The City University of New York (CUNY) and as Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost of the 25-campus CUNY system. He has also served as provost of California State University, Fullerton, vice president of Higher Education Policy and Practice at The Education Trust in Washington, D.C., and Chief Student Affairs Officer for the University of Puerto Rico system, and other faculty and administrative positions.
A leading national advocate for policies to expand opportunities and improve educational outcomes for all students—especially those who have historically been underserved—Cruz Rivera is a frequent keynote speaker and writer on higher education issues and serves on several regional and national boards of organizations that work to advance equitable educational policies and practices.
Lesson 1. Learn from others but always be you. 02:10
Lesson 2. Leverage your lived experience to inform your future state. 03:42
Lesson 3. Hire the best, get out of their way. 05:54
Lesson 4. Coach more, manage less. 9:14
Lesson 5. Unite and conquer. 11:48
Lesson 6. Stop. Listen. Vision. Act. 15:56
Lesson 7. Calibrate intentionality bias. 19:08
Lesson 8. Avoid controversy as you embark on the road to irreversible progress. 22:09
Lesson 9. Quality of execution trumps ambitious pronouncements. 24:48
Lesson 10. Always remember that the life of you and yours is the ultimate project. 27:39
Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera – Calibrate Intentionality Bias
[00:00:08] Diana White: Hello and welcome to the 10 Lessons Learned Show where we talk to leaders and luminaries from all over the world to dispense wisdom for career, business, and life in order to make the world wiser lesson by lesson. My name is Diana White, and I’m your host for this episode.
[00:00:25] Diana White: Our guest today is Dr. Jose Louise Cruz Rivera.
[00:00:30] Diana White: Dr. Cruz Rivera is the 17th president of Northern Arizona University, N A U. Since beginning his tenure in June of 2021, he has worked with the university community to create a bold vision for a new N A U focused on the delivery of equitable post-secondary value, and to enact several signature initiatives designed to position N A U as the nation’s preeminent engine of opportunity, vehicle of economic mobility. Driver of social impact, a leading national advocate for policies to expand opportunities and improve educational outcomes for all students, especially those who have been historically underserved. Cruz Rivera is a frequent keynote speaker and writer on higher education issues and serves on several regional and national boards of organizations that work to advance equitable educational policies and practices.
[00:01:25] Diana White: Welcome Dr. Cruz Rivera.
[00:01:27] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Thank you for having me.
[00:01:29] Diana White: Oh, I am, I’m so excited. So, viewers and listeners, it is very rare that you get to interview the president of the university that you graduated from, so I am excited, I am stoked, and I’m just hoping not to mess this up for us. Okay. So, we’ll keep going. Oh, Dr.
[00:01:48] Diana White: Cruz Rivera I’m going to throw you a curve ball First question, what would you tell your 30-year-old self.
[00:01:55] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: My 30-year-old self. Well, I think there’s so many things I could tell my 30-year-old self, but I would think, buckle up for a fantastic ride would probably be appropriate.
[00:02:06] Diana White: I think so, I dare say for sure.
[00:02:10] Lesson 1: Learn from others but always be you.
[00:02:10] Diana White: Now, let’s get into lesson number one, and our viewers and listeners know if they watch my episodes, that I don’t like to get insight into these in advance. I want to be just as, wowed by the wisdom as everybody else at the same time. So, lesson number one, learn from others, but always be you and I love the way you’ve put this. So, talk to me about this.
[00:02:33] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Well, I think what I mean by that is that, when you look at the popular literature on leadership, sometimes you’re led to think that there is a particular type of leader, right? That you are either born into, being a leader or that you can learn from others and adapt your own life to be like them.
[00:02:51] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And what I’ve found is that it’s really more about, observing other leaders. But at the end of the day, remaining true to yourself and adapting those things that you learn from other leaders to specific instances in your leadership journey where those tools, those demeanors, those lessons that those other leaders have put, forth to advance their causes, make sense for you.
[00:03:16] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: But the best way for. you to succeed is to just to be yourself and inform your work by what you have learned from others.
[00:03:24] Diana White: Now, I, I will agree with this wholeheartedly. One of the first times I had the honor of seeing you speak and address, us Immediately what came to mind was authenticity. I knew you were being your authentic self, and it was, it was so cool to see that.
[00:03:42] Lesson 2: Leverage your lived experience to inform your future state.
[00:03:42] Diana White: so, I, I, I see that you practice what you preach. Lesson number two, leverage your lived experience to inform your future state.
[00:03:52] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: There. What I think I, I, I mean, is that, You know, we all have a lived experience that we bring to our job, and sometimes, there is this tendency to think that that’s not enough to draw from in order to be able to inform the work that you need to advance.
[00:04:09] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: That is, there’s this tendency to, to try to read everything that’s ever been written about a particular issue in leadership or to talk to as many mentors as you can to get their advice. And while that is something that that is worthy and should be done, what should not be done is to discount your own lived experience.
[00:04:28] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Because your own lived experience has put you in positions where you have been able to navigate by listening, by observing, and by drawing on your own self and the decisions that you have made, for better or worse, reflect the person you are and the person who you hope to be. And so, whenever you make a decision, it’s easier to be able to explain the why of that decision, the motivations for it, to others who may be wondering.
[00:04:59] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: If you can draw from that personal experience rather than. Point to whatever a best practice, has been shown to be or whatever somebody else did at some other point in time. Again, those things are important to inform your work, but your decision making and the motivations for it are stronger and easier communicated when they’re authentic, when they are based on things that you can really relate to.
[00:05:25] Diana White: And I feel like that is something that, that should be just so well known, but I think most of us get in our own way and I think it’s almost a sense of it can’t possibly be that simple. I don’t have that much to bring to the table. It can’t possibly be that simple, but it is. It really is. And I love the way you put it.
[00:05:45] Lesson 3: Hire the best, get out of their way.
[00:05:45] Diana White: Lesson number three. Now I, I wholeheartedly believe in this and I. I’ve been privileged to interview a lot of leaders and it seems to be a constant. Lesson number three, hire the best. Get out of their way.
[00:05:59] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Yes, yes. So, it’s, sometimes folks just, stop at the, hire the best, right? Build the best team you can, but less is said about how you engage with that team.
[00:06:09] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And what I found, in my 25-plus year career in higher ed working for, and with, many colleagues across many states, in the country and many types of institutions. Is that it’s not only about having the best team, but for the leader at the end of the day, in this case, the president of a university, to really understand that even though they may have done the work that that leader is doing, for example, before being president, I was the provost, the vice President of Academic Affairs.
[00:06:38] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: So, you would think, or I would. Normally think, oh yeah, I know how to solve that problem. Even, when you think that you need to have the discipline and the, constraint, to step back and allow your current provost who you have, empowered to drive the work forward, to do the work, understanding the provost, understanding that you are there for them as a thought partner. And that you are there to help them, coach them through certain situations that may mean new to them, but that may not be so new to you. Now, the importance of that, of not overstepping and just saying, get out of the way I’ve done this. I know how to do this, is that inevitably the current provost, in this case that we’re using as the example.
[00:07:24] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Is closer to the issue. is closer to the people, is closer to the culture. And so all, even though you may have dealt with this in California, it’s not the same as dealing with it in Arizona. And so, build that best team. Get out of the way, make sure they know they can count on you at any given point in time, for thought partnership, and support.
[00:07:44] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: and, and just, let things play out. Of course, if you have arranged your, relationships in such a way, to ensure that this is the case, you will also see that, you will have a lot of visibility into the work that is, you will not be really surprised much because even though your team is doing the work, they’re keeping you abreast of how things are going. And so, that helps with the accountability piece that as president, you can’t really delegate.
[00:08:14] Diana White: And I, I think there’s a critical part that is missing too, that people don’t realize is that in turn, when you do this, when you kind of get out of the way and you’re a cheerleader and a resource, You develop your leadership skills, it helps you develop your leadership skills.
[00:08:33] Diana White: You can’t do that if you’re still quote unquote micromanaging. And a lot of people don’t realize that It’s not just for the benefit of the employee that is stepping into their role and trying to do their best, but it’s you, you gain from that because you gain those leadership skills.
[00:08:51] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: That is right. And, and, and new perspectives and, and new ways to your point of approaching things, by being more of a coach and less of a manager. During this conversation that, allows you to, leverage skills and perspectives that you may not have. but the person you have entrusted to do the work does and is sharing it with you in real time as they’re trying to meet the challenge.
[00:09:14] Lesson 4: Coach more, manage less.
[00:09:14] Diana White: And that leads us right into lesson number four, which is literally coach more, manage less.
[00:09:21] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Yes. I think, you know, and, and this has taken me a little bit of time to, to, to really learn this lesson myself, throughout my career. the temptation I. to be more engaged with problem solving. I’m an engineer, so problem solving, you know, it’s a, it’s a very, it’s a big temptation, regardless of what type of problem and what sphere we’re talking about.
[00:09:43] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: But it has been difficult to, to resist that temptation. And so, even though I may have, gotten the lesson of hiring the best and getting out of their way. I was more often, alongside rather than behind and in support. Mm-hmm. and what I’ve, what I’ve learned is that in, in, in coaching and managing less, what, what I mean by that, is to really, think of your team.
[00:10:10] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: The challenges you all face as a portfolio, right? And so, you as the coach, are trying to optimize the performance of the overall organization. So, by staying one step behind, and working closely individually with your leaders, I. You also have this vantage point that then allows you to make the connections, right?
[00:10:31] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And so when you’re talking to your enrolment manager, and I’m now using academic, you know, roles and positions, when you’re talking to your enrolment management about a particular challenge that they have, sometimes it doesn’t take long before you say, Well, why don’t you talk to the C F O because last week we were talking about X and the provost.
[00:10:50] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: She mentioned why, and I think that then if we bring in our student affairs, professionals, we’ll be able to have the entire, picture that we need in order to, to move forward. So, a coach from the perspective of, of not only the individual relationship with, with one of your team members, but of a team of how to make sure that you bring all of those talents, all of those skills, all of those perspectives to bear on a challenge that may actually look like it’s more localized, but in reality has more of a cross-divisional, perspective to it.
[00:11:25] Diana White: So true. And, and viewers and listeners if you’re in leadership roles, right? Yes. He brought up titles that are specific to higher education, but this spans anything you’ve got going on from, you know, management to, C-suite to VPs. that practice of coach more, manage less works, I think in, in any industry.
[00:11:48] Lesson 5: Unite and Conquer.
[00:11:48] Diana White: Now number five. Lesson number five. I have never seen this before and I loved it and I’m like, man, this is, this is going to cause some controversy because you’re twisting a saying that we all know on its ears. So, lesson number five. Unite and conquer. Unite and conquer.
[00:12:05] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Yeah. So, you know, and, and this is one of those where also as an engineer, it, it did not come naturally to me, but, you know, usually we talk about unite and conquer.
[00:12:15] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: In my field of engineering, it’s usually applied to systems and problems. So, you have a big, large problem that’s complicated and requires a lot of people to try to solve it, and so you divide it into smaller. Chunks. You assign it to different teams. You create the processes and the structures that will allow everybody to work together and eventually bring their respective solutions to bear.
[00:12:38] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And then in that way, you solve a, a, a big problem that not one particular team or person could on their own. so that’s how it works in certain fields. But in the leadership, In the leadership arena, it’s usually, used to talk about people, right? You divide and conquer people. You divide and conquer people into groups, right?
[00:12:59] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And then you use groups one against the other, and you create alliances and somehow that way, you are able to advance a particular agenda. and so what I, what I’ve learned is that even when you’re, regardless of whether you’re talking about problems and elements of problems or people and factions or groups of people, that are trying to drive different, solutions for a particular agenda, that at the end of the day it’s, it’s, it’s really better to unite.
[00:13:27] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: It’s an easier way, to conquer because, what we know is that regardless of how complicated an issue is, setting aside for a minute, the very polarized and sometimes toxic environment in in which we are, working Yeah. these days in our country. And, and something that I hope will be able to overcome in not too long, setting that aside for a minute.
[00:13:48] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: The reality is that in any particular problem statement, regardless of how many groups have different ways of thinking about how to solve that problem, there are commonalities. And if we focus on those commonalities and we bring people together around those, we may be able to solve 80% of the problem.
[00:14:09] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Not a hundred percent perhaps, but 80% of the problem. Whereas if we didn’t, and if we tried to go the dividing and conquer route, maybe we can solve 0% of the problem because we’re stuck in the controversy, the polarization, and the toxic environments. And so, unite and conquer. it’s something that I’ve, that I think a lot about.
[00:14:29] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: I think about it from the standpoint of something I read many years ago, which is you should always try to be soft on the people and hard on the problems.
[00:14:37] Diana White: I can’t even express how much. Wisdom, how much 30,000 feet wisdom it takes to get out of your way and understand that process, unite and conquer.
[00:14:52] Diana White: That is, that is phenomenal. I hope our viewers and listeners take something away from that, because we can tend to get caught up in the everyday and our emotions and how we feel about it and what we think should be done, and a lot of the times we do. approach issues on the offensive, and I think that what you’re talking about is something totally different and gets better results.
[00:15:17] Diana White: That’s what I say.
[00:15:19] Affiliate Break
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[00:15:56] Lesson 6: Stop. Listen. Vision. Act.
[00:15:56] Diana White: Let’s welcome back Dr. Cruz Rivera and continue with lesson number six.
[00:16:00] Diana White: Lesson number six, Stop. Listen, Vision, Act.
[00:16:06] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Well, this is, an interesting one. You know, early in my career, as I was observing other leaders, In academia in this case, but also in industry. and in, in advocacy circles. I was very taken by decisive leaders, right? people who seemingly were able to, get a quick read of a situation.
[00:16:25] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And lay out a, a plan for, solving or, a problem or, or achieving a, or meeting a, a challenge head on. and, and what I’ve actually learned, in my own, career, trying to advance, difficult, agendas, within and outside of higher ed, is that yes, you need to be decisive. And you need to be decisive in the terms of being able to make a decision as soon as you’re ready to.
[00:16:52] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: But how long it takes you to be ready to. Is open. It has to be as long as it needs to be within the, whatever, real life constraints there may be, right? There may be some hard deadlines. but if there is a hard deadline and you need to wait until, you know, two hours before you meet that deadline, that’s fine, and that does not make you a less decisive leader.
[00:17:15] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Because the reality is, as we were speaking before, sometimes as leaders, we, there’s this deja vu, right? You, you’re faced with an issue and you say, ah, you know, 10 years ago when I worked at X , and Y in the state of, you know, New York, I encountered that same issue and here’s how we resolved it and this is what we’re going to do.
[00:17:35] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Well, you may be losing a lot of nuances because you may not be in New York anymore. 10 years have passed. The people involved are very different. I. Their motivations, their affiliations, their connections with each other. And I’m not talking just in terms of the org chart. There’s also something to be said about the, the, the family and neighbor chart, right?
[00:17:56] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Because a lot of people, in our companies or organizations have, relationships outside of work. And so, you’re missing all of that very critical information that make whatever brilliant idea you had 10 years ago in another state, be totally ignorant for the time at hand and the problem that you’re facing.
[00:18:16] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And so, I’ve learned to resist that temptation. And even though the deja vu maybe there, and I think I know exactly how to manage it, stop. Really, listen, listen as much as you can, right? Then start, envisioning how different approaches may, play out over time? Listen again. Then, just then and perhaps running out of time, you make a decision.
[00:18:45] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: That decision for some may not be decisive because it took you two months, but it will probably be the best decision, that you could have made given the information you had and the resources available to you. And so, I have, again, this one has taken me a little bit of time, but I have learned to be at peace with, taking as much time, as I need to make decisions.
[00:19:07] Diana White: I love that.
[00:19:08] Lesson 7: Calibrate Intentionality Bias.
[00:19:08] Diana White: I love that. Now, lesson number seven, I was thrown by this. I’m dying to hear what this is. Lesson number seven, calibrate intentionality bias. Tell me about that.
[00:19:22] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Well, you know, in, in, in very, especially when you have high stress situations, and. There’s a lot at stake. A lot of this happened, for example, during the Covid crisis.
[00:19:33] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Sure. you know, we were just, regardless of your industry or the type of organization you worked for, we were all under a lot of stress. Very high stakes, not only on the professional side, but also the personal, aspects of our life. And so, what I. What I found was, and, and, and, and it was exacerbated during this time, but it’s something that I’ve, been aware of for, for many, many years, is this tendency, to, to have intentionality, bias in the sense of when somebody says something to you or you get an email that’s a little cryptic, or somebody passes you by in the hall and for whatever reason, doesn’t make eye contact.
[00:20:16] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: There’s this tendency to ascribe the worst possible intention.
[00:20:21] Diana White: Very true.
[00:20:22] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Right? And then that leads down a path that inevitably, creates more tension and makes it more difficult to ensure that everybody is being, trust. trusting of each other and, feeling, that they have the capacity to bring their whole selves into a discussion about how to meet a particular challenge.
[00:20:43] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And what I, what I’ve, tried to, to come to terms with, and, and I say this a lot to, to my colleagues, is, calibrate your intentionality bias. In fact, unless you have really, really, really good reasons to think otherwise, Think the best of what the intentions were and usually that works out, right?
[00:21:06] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: That, that offhand comment was just that perhaps not a well thought out, offhand comment. that email, was written a, in a, in a rush, in a particularly stressful time for a person taking a kid to, to their, to a medical appointment. You know, there are many reasons why things may come across, in a way that you may think are, are negative, when in fact, if you give it time and if you address it directly, you’ll realize that the motivations, were very different.
[00:21:36] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: So, you know, in, in the end it’s always somewhere in the middle, right? you. Thought it was the worst. They thought it wasn’t that bad. It’s somewhere in the middle. and it’s a better way to, to live your life generally, not just at work, to always give the other the benefit of the doubt and, the best intentions, to what they do.
[00:21:55] Diana White: I believe in that, and I also believe that 90% of the time it, it isn’t even about you. Like it isn’t even about you. They weren’t even thinking about you, but you made it about you. I love that one
[00:22:09] Lesson 8: Avoid controversy as you embark on the road to irreversible progress.
[00:22:09] Diana White: Lesson number eight, avoid controversy as you embark on the road to irreversible progress.
[00:22:17] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Well, so, and this is maybe more true in, in, in academia, perhaps in other, spaces as well.
[00:22:24] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: But we are routinely faced with, very difficult challenges that have a sense of urgency to them. The legislature makes a pronouncement that universities need to do X. The faculty is on the verge of, meeting to do a vote of no confidence on the president or some other administrator.
[00:22:43] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: The alumni are upset, because the. Athletics teams are not given, being given the support they need. And you know, we can go on and on and there’s this tendency, to try for leaders to try to make bold pronouncements on how we’re going to resolve this, right? As a way to perhaps, calm the situation, project leadership and, and provide some sense of, there being a light at the end of the tunnel.
[00:23:11] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Right. true. The problem with that is that, in doing so, you’re probably reacting to the moment, in a way that will more likely than not create controversy because then people will start asking questions, well, what do you mean we’re going to do that? And by how and with what resources and, and, and, and who was consulted.
[00:23:30] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And, and so then you get bogged down in the controversy as. Really what you would want to be doing is using that time to get everybody on board on the road to a place where you have achieved what I call irreversible progress. Which is not only that you solved the problem, but you solved it irreversibly, right?
[00:23:51] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Have created the structures, the alliances, Change the culture in whatever way is needed to ensure that that doesn’t happen again, because you have many, many, many other things you want to work on. And so, it’s all about making sure that, you’re focusing on, on what I call the, the quality of execution, right?
[00:24:09] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: So, there’s this big problem. So, people are upset, there’s a sense of urgency. You stop. You listen, you envision possible ways of solving it, and then you act and then you act with high quality to ensure that you get to that place of irreversible progress. Don’t just react immediately and say, we’re going to solve it.
[00:24:29] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: You know, call me in in two in three weeks because then in three weeks you’re just going to have a lot of controversy on your hands to deal with.
[00:24:38] Diana White: I’m hearing an underlying vein here, which is, don’t fall for the pressure. Take your time. And I love that.
[00:24:48] Lesson 9: Quality of execution trumps ambitious pronouncements.
[00:24:48] Diana White: And, and it’s kind of segues what we were just talking about into lesson number nine, quality of execution trumps ambitious pronouncements.
[00:24:57] Diana White: It’s just what you talked about.
[00:24:58] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and, and basically it, it’s, a subset of, of our, our previous statements in the sense of case. So now you’ve decided, you, you’ve stopped, you’ve listened, you have some approaches, then you want to. execute with quality and, and, and so the, the, the quality of execution trumps the boldness of reform in the sense that, you’re focusing on the work.
[00:25:21] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Rather than the pronouncement. And then in focusing on the work, it’s sort of the unite and conquer comes in, but in a little different way, which is, let’s figure out how this problem that we’re trying to solve over time, instead of thinking of it as this big bold initiative that we’re going to move forward, how do we, unpack it into smaller, incremental reform initiatives that, that have a name and, and last name attached to it?
[00:25:50] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Like this, this piece can be done in, in academia. We would say, this is the piece of the student affairs folks. This piece is going to be driven by the vice president of research. This other piece is going to be driven by our, our advancement, folks that work with our alumni.
[00:26:06] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Right? And you unpack it in that way, and then you work incrementally. To advance each of those challenges. What I found is that, those incremental, improvements that you achieve by unpacking it in that way, add up into a whole, that then allows you to show that through the quality of your execution, you have not only met, but you have perhaps, You know, overperformed, whatever the, the, the problem or the, or the challenge was that, that you were trying, to solve.
[00:26:38] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: So, it’s more about a lot of well-orchestrated incremental reform efforts. You have to be well orchestrated. That’s where the leadership, as a coach, Idea comes in, right. They’re well-orchestrated. Those incremental efforts that do not bring a lot of controversy because people know what they have to do, and they’re not being forced to do something dramatic.
[00:26:58] Diana White: Right. Right.
[00:26:59] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: they add up to get you to where you need to be. I. in the broader scheme of things, so I, I’ll give you a quick example. When I was at California State University 10 years ago, 12 years ago now, I think, we had this big goal that in five years we were going to increase graduation rates by 10 percentage points.
[00:27:16] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: There was a lot of controversy when we put that in writing because people felt it was impossible. But once we put it in writing, then we went into the process of unpacking it, and long story short, in three years, not five, we increase graduation rates by 11 points.
[00:27:32] Diana White: Wow.
[00:27:34] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: That’s just an example of, of how we think about this.
[00:27:38] Diana White: Oh,
[00:27:39] Lesson 10: Always remember that the life of you and yours is the ultimate project.
[00:27:39] Diana White: lesson number 10. Now, I don’t know you well, but I already know this to be true, and I feel like this is one of the tenets of your life. Lesson number 10, always remember that the life of you and yours is the ultimate project.
[00:27:57] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: So, I have a large family. I have five kids, and three, three, five kids and two grandkids.
[00:28:03] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: I mean, not get ahead of another grandkid. I, I became a father at the age of 19 and, I was a junior in college. by then I started early. It didn’t take too long for me to start sort of reflecting. I, I, I’d like to, to think a lot and, and I was reflecting on, on life in general, and I, and I got to this idea that, that life, it’s not a very profound idea.
[00:28:26] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Right. You know, it’s a 20-year-old idea. The idea of a 20-year-old person, you know, that life was really a bunch of three-to-five-year projects back-to-back. Hmm. Right. anything you did in life took about three to five years and, and then you have some other big project, and you would move on. And so, I was thinking of it that way almost as a project manager, you know, life from the perspective of a project manager.
[00:28:51] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: But after several of those small projects where I graduating from college, going to grad school, right, et cetera, you start adding them all up, getting my first job, it became clear that the only thing that was constant and the only project that I would ever be really, truly evaluated on, I. Was my, the way I conducted my life and supported my family.
[00:29:15] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Hmm. And so, I will say that it took several, three-to-five-year cycles before I really, you know, became part of my ethos. And, and now I think I’m proud to say that, that most of my, At least, emotional and, and, and quality thinking and reflection time is devoted to family, even though I have a huge responsibility and privilege, to, to serve as a leader of Northern Arizona University.
[00:29:44] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And I sit on several boards and, you know, have a lot of projects going on. At the end of the day, that’s where my, the, the, the anchor of my work, lies, which is, which is with family. And I just wish, going back to earlier question of what you would tell your 30 year old self, maybe, I just wish I would have someone or myself, I had the chance to, to say that earlier so that I would have, adopted that lesson earlier in, in, in my career.
[00:30:11] Diana White: That makes sense. And you know, one of the things that I, I love about that ideology, that practice, is the fact that your children get to see the caliber of man you are inside the family and outside of the family. And you are a great role model for that. And I, and I think it, it doesn’t have anything to do with your presidency.
[00:30:34] Diana White: It has to do with the caliber of man you are. You could have gone into engineering and worked for an engineer firm, and I feel like your children would’ve still seen the man at home and the man out in the world handles himself with dignity and respect and thinks about the long game. You’re, you’re an, you’re amazing.
[00:30:56] Diana White: You’re amazing. But I do have to throw you a curve ball question. I do. It can be amazing, but I’m still going to Oprah win for you. Okay. All of this amazing stuff that we’ve talked about today. Mm-hmm. What have you had to unlearn?
[00:31:14] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Well, have I had to unlearn? well, one of the things is, I have had to unlearn what I thought was the right pace, of advancing the work, early in my career.
[00:31:28] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: I. And, and it, it may not have changed as much in terms of hours, but it has changed in terms of focus. Going to the previous question, you know, I felt that in order to really make a difference, and not a difference because of from an ego perspective or, or ambition, but more because really, truly, a commitment that I had been given so much by society in terms of, of an ability to get a good high quality education. that, that propelled me from, from being poor to, you know, the upper middle class, in, in a fairly short order, that I needed to move quickly to ensure that I paid it back, right? To others, across many fronts.
[00:32:09] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And that, was something that did, yield a lot of results early on in my career. but it did exhaust me. Hmm. And it did come at the, at the cost of not being as available, as I, as I now am and, and wish I had been mm-hmm. in, in my family’s life. so, I guess I was a good provider and support in, everything.
[00:32:34] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: But I can say truly that, I have an 11th, an 11th grader now that I have been more a part of my 11th graders life than I was of my oldest son, who was born when I was still in college, right? That I can rationalize that, but it, it’s still, it’s still a, a, a source of pain, right? Yeah.
[00:32:55] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: That, I was not as involved. now I’m trying to do everything I can to be right, even though it’s in his thirties. but that’s something I would, I would like to unlearn because it was really, a lesson that for some reason, maybe it was just ingrained in me, or I learned it from the wrong source.
[00:33:13] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: but I felt that I was not doing my part unless I was doing it 24 7. Yeah. At the expense of other more important things. maybe, maybe too much information, but
[00:33:24] Diana White: No, no, that’s what we like on the show. Again, it, you know, we’re, we’re appealing to a demographic that is going to shave off many years of strife and heartache learning from mistakes we made. And so, this is, this is absolutely par for the course. This is what we want. So now usually this is the point where I say, where can we find you? What are you working on? But for you, I think it’s really simple to just say, what are your plans for the future of Northern Arizona University?
[00:33:56] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: Our plans for the future, I’m, I’m happy to say are, are very well articulated and they’re public and people will be able to hold us accountable in a few years as to whether or not we delivered on them. we recently adopted, a new strategic roadmap. it’s called N A U 2025, elevating Excellence.
[00:34:15] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And I will say that the plans are all embedded. There are several goals and strategies as you would expect, but it. It’s all embedded in, in a very simple vision statement, and it’s our vision, our professed aspiration for this university. And basically it says something like, Northern Arizona University, seeks to be the nations, Preeminent engine of opportunity, which speaks to our, commitment to broaden participation in higher education, vehicle of economic mobility, which speaks to the quality of our programs and how they position our students to, move up in life from a socioeconomic perspective.
[00:34:54] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: and driver of social impact, which is a way of us articulating. our desire that our graduates, 70% of whom stay in the state of Arizona, will stay in the state of Arizona and in advancing their profession contribute to social impact. and this is, for example, through the work that they do as nurses in underserved populations where they can bring their multicultural perspectives to bear in the care of Native American, populations, Latino populations, black populations, rural, populations, et cetera.
[00:35:28] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: And that we will do all of that by delivering on what we call equitable post-secondary value, which is to say, If you entrust your educational future to N A U, we are committed to ensuring that you get value from that experience and that that value does not differ or it’s not colored by, or, or influenced by, your socioeconomic background. your ethnic background, or where you come from.
[00:35:57] Dr. Jose Luis Cruz Rivera: So, that is, that is the vision statement. And so all of our plans are aligned to, making that a reality.
[00:36:05] Diana White: So, I am living proof. That a degree within AU gets you where you want to go.
[00:36:12] Diana White: I’m living proof of that. Oh, my goodness. I want to thank our guest, Dr. Cruz Rivera, for sharing his lessons with us today. This was an amazing one. I’m telling you it was a full circle. One for me. Everyone.
[00:36:24] Diana White: I’m going to exit out the show you’ve been listening to 10 Lessons Learned. This episode is produced by Robert Hassi, supported as always by the professional development forum.
[00:36:35] Diana White: Please tell us what you think of today’s lessons. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go ahead and hit that like button, subscribe and turn on the notification bell so you don’t miss an episode of the only show that makes the world wiser lesson by lesson.
[00:36:51] Diana White: Thank you everybody. Be safe.
This episode is produced by Robert Hossary. Sponsored as always by Professional Development Forum. You can find the www.professionaldevelopmentforum.org you’ve heard from us we’d like to hear from you. Email us it’s email@example.com. Remember, this is the podcast the only podcast. That’s makes the world wiser lesson by lesson.