It sounds counterintuitive to suggest that adversity can stoke the flames of creativity and accelerate a leader’s and an organization’s journey to excellence in an accelerated way. Yet, as Jim Haudan, a writer for Inc. magazine, noted “adversity is the fuel of greatness.” Source 

He suggested that reframing adversity as a close friend rather than a fierce enemy helps people and organizations to adapt and to thrive because it:

  1. Builds Character

  2. Creates Resilience

  3. Promotes Learning from Discomfort

  4. Draws Out Our True Strengths

  5. Promotes Acceptance

  6. Builds External Resources

  7. Helps Us Succeed ‘Because of’ Not ‘in Spite of’

2020 revealed a multitude of complex challenges for leaders and organizations in higher education with the onset of the pandemic, economic recession, and necessity for higher education to transition quickly to remote learning. In short order, most in-person instruction and convening was transitioned to Zoom, Teams, Blue Jeans or a similar platform. NACCE as an organization experienced similar challenges and worked intentionally to develop new tools and resources that would help leaders, faculty and colleges pivot and work together to co-create solutions to the problems brought on by the pandemic and the social unrest that we all experienced together.

“Adversity is the fuel of greatness.”
Jim Haudan

Mary Morrissey | The Hidden Code for Transforming
Dreams into Reality

TEDxWilmingtonWomen, December 21, 2016

Speaking with four leaders who self-identified as employing entrepreneurial mindset to move themselves and their organizations forward offers lessons that are relevant in communities across the United States and the world. Hindsight can be a helpful teacher in reminding leaders what prepared them for the positions that they occupied during 2020 and how entrepreneurial mindset helped them to move forward.

As you read these brief vignettes, begin to think about your own story... what have you learned through the course of the pandemic that will help you to be a better leader?


Look for assets that have been accrued over the years that can fill a gap.

"When there was resistance to looking at higher ed as a business, we found the path of least resistance through the noncredit side.”

– Dr. Rufus Glasper, President & CEO,
League for Innovation


Research is key to knowing how the pandemic impacted your organization. 

“The world has changed, and we have to continue to look at how to stay relevant, provide value to our Fellows and to the direct selling industry."

– Nancy Laichas, Chief of Entrepreneurship Initiatives, Direct Selling Education Foundation


Low risk solutions can help a team fly forward fast. 

“During the pandemic we created and tested a new ‘Remote Student Support’ role. The risk was low since existing staff were redeployed to fill the positions.”


– Dr. Anne Kress, President of
Northern Virginia Community College


Restructuring working climate and culture can drive improved results. 

“My job was to set the table and help develop the conditions that help people be the best that they can be. It is not fixing people.”


– Dr. Edwin Massey, retired President,
Indian River State College (FL)

01 / Financial and Political Savvy Yields Dividends
Dr. Rufus Glasper

In 1981 in the City of Chicago Public School System, as the Director of Financial Planning and Budgeting, Rufus faced a $150 million deficit. A look at the balance sheet showed that the school system owned Midway Airport, whose value at that time would cover half the cost of the deficit. Still, political entanglements made this a complicated potential acquisition. The real lesson here was in searching for assets and assessing risk.


This learning carried over to his new position in 1986 at the Maricopa Community College District (MCCD), where he began as the Deputy Finance Director and ascended over time to becoming the Chancellor. With increased influence, Rufus could get MCCD to operate more like a business. As a result, he and Dr. Gene Giovannini, now Chancellor at Tarrant County College District in Texas, created the Maricopa Corporate College to engage non-credit offering with the business community in Phoenix. Also, legislate revenue-generating options from new businesses established in the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI).


The success of this model is profiled in the book, Community Colleges as Incubators of Innovation: Unleashing Entrepreneurial Opportunities for Communities and Students (2019, Stylus Publishing).

02 / | Lesson #1 from Tiger Beat Magazine: Always Be in Startup Mode| Nancy Laichas

In 2000, Nancy moved to Texas and collaborated with a friend from the publishing business to launch a book publishing company aimed at tweens. To help fund the start-up, Nancy and her partner took on editorial work for a Tiger Beat-like magazine, covering teen celebrity news, writing quizzes and horoscopes, and featuring products like hip clothing, accessories and make up. With little cash and lots of marketing and public relations experience to trade to accelerate the business, the bottom line was growing – until the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.


Almost overnight book sales and side projects disappeared. Faced with starting over and incorporating lessons learned, Nancy landed a job as editor of Direct Selling News. Inspired by learning about direct selling companies that provide micro-entrepreneurship opportunities to folks who love, demonstrate and sell products, Nancy took a new job in DC with the Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF), a non-profit whose mission is to provide academic with tools teach students about direct selling as channel of distribution and go-to-market strategy.  DSEF now has 250 academic Fellows who research direct selling and reach hundreds of thousands of students across the United States. When the pandemic hit, Nancy drew upon lessons learned through 9/11 to help DSEF and its Fellows to pivot and thrive.


03 /  When Does ‘Always Closed’ Really Mean Open?
Dr. Anne Kress


In January of 2020, a few months before the pandemic shut down classrooms and businesses, Anne began her new assignment as President of Northern Virginia Community College. Building trust and taking risks by thinking about a ‘minimal viable product’ helped her to understand how interdependent we all are in general and especially in a remote environment. Going back to her days at Santa Fe College working on Title III grant she became aware that the student perspective is often overlooked, creating challenges for colleges. When told that the student advising office was ‘always closed’ she walked over and found two solid wood doors, one that was always locked and another that was not. If students tried the locked door first, they had no reason to believe the other would be open, and they walked away. Adding a sign pointing to the open door was such a simple and powerful solution. Continuing to rethink the way things are done and saying ‘yes’ to opportunities that arise has opened many doors for her and the people that she serves.

04 / ‘So Much Potential’ If the Conditions

Are Right for People to Prosper | Dr. Edwin Massey

In 1973 with a background in biology and marine science and a love for teaching, Ed began his career on the campus of Indian River State College in Florida. Nine years later he stepped out of the classroom and assumed an administrative role in the public safety area. His president at the time said that he knew it was a different subject matter, but that Ed’s ability to listen and to connect with people would allow him to succeed.


In 1988, Ed became the president and offered the self-assessment that he made a lot of mistakes by just telling people what to do and trying to fix them. Over time, he came to see that people could not reach their full potential this way. Ed set on a course to restructure the climate and the culture which can take a long time. Yet continuous attention to focusing on creating conditions that allow people to be their best selves yields tremendous dividends for the organization. This work resulted in Indian River State College winning the Aspen Prize for Community College excellence in 2019.


The advice he gives to all leaders is to ‘be careful where you direct your energy and resources. Things can keep getting better.’

Recommended Resources: 

Check out these five engaging TED Talks about higher education culture and learning, as curated by BestValueSchools.com.

Higher education is not about getting a job | Fred D'Agostino | TEDxUQ

Higher education is not about getting a job | Fred D'Agostino | TEDxUQ

Many people think the point of higher education is economic: graduates get better paying jobs and the economy gets the knowledge-workers it needs. But, there is another story. There is a role for higher education in skilling-up citizens so they can play an active and effective role in a democratic society. Hear from political philosopher, Professor Fred D'Agostino as he shares numerous examples of this alternative story. Fred D'Agostino is Professor of Humanities at The University of Queensland and was Executive Dean of Arts and Associate Dean of Arts (Academic) during his ten-year stint at UQ. He is a philosopher, author of four books, sometime editor of the journals Australasian Journal of Philosophy and Politics, and Philosophy and Economics. He co-edited the recent Routledge Companion to Political and Social Philosophy. A member of the UQ Senate for four years, he is interested in the purposes and processes of higher education. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and has held Australian Research Council and Australian Learning and Teaching Council grants. His next big project is on "the disciplines" (e.g. History, Sociology) and how they work. Brought to you by: University of Queensland (UQ) UQx UQ Advantage Office MezurX UQ's Faculty of Science UQ's School of Psychology UQ Union Pitcher Partners thecopyshopuq MailChimp TEDxUQ Team: Advisors: Professor Phillip Long & Dr. Jessica Gallagher Curator: Lawrence Kurniawan Wong Co-curator: Sheila Horas Speaker Outreach Coordinator: Hannah Thomas Event & Logistics Coordinator: Sabrina Wong Sponsorship & Financial Coordinator: Marya Atmeh Creativity & Marketing Coordinator: Ervin Liu Multimedia & Photography Coordinator: Lennon Cheng Sponsorship & Financial: Tom Robinson Multimedia & Photography: Anindra Iswara Event & Logistics: Steven Chan Event & Logistics: Joanne Cheong Creativity & Marketing: Yuxi Wang Master of Ceremony: Rebecca Dew Speaker Outreach: Jeremy Farley In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Looking for more? Take a listen to this curated collection from NACCE's own podcast, Making Our Way Forward. Like what you hear? Subscribe on your favorite platform!  

Honoring George Floyd’s Life: Conversations Around This Catalytic Moment
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Podcast Chat in Chattanooga: Tennessee Leadership Voices
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Rising from Public School to Public Office: The Story of NC Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall – First Woman Ever Elected to a Statewide Executive Office
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Celebrating Earth Day Everyday: Simple Things That Make a Difference with Stephanie J. Miller
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