Tips From The Top: One On One With Dr. Nido Qubein

I spoke to Dr. Nido Qubein, President of High Point University, about his journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts on leadership. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Nido: I came to the United States as a teenager with little knowledge of English and only $50 in my pocket. I came to America because I believed if you work hard enough and smart enough, you can create positive impact.

Adam: What should readers understand about the current state and the future of higher education?

Nido: Like leading a business, it is important for universities to be able to define and embrace their core values. Focusing on experiential education and holistic, values-based learning, High Point University is the Premier Life Skills University and prepares graduates to lead a life of both success and significance. In a world where technology changes daily, the ability to collaborate, communicate, solve problems and create relevant value are among the skills that serve graduates well for the rest of their lives. That’s why 97% of High Point University students are employed or continuing education within six months of graduation, 11 points higher than the national average. 

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Nido: As an immigrant, who did not know the language, my life has been about adopting a growth mindset to overcome life’s obstacles. I learned it’s okay to be disappointed, but it’s never okay to be discouraged. There is no such thing as an unrealistic dream; only unrealistic timelines.  

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Nido: Success rarely comes to those expecting failure. If you want to reach for success in every area of your life, the most important asset you can have is a faithfully optimistic, winning attitude. I call it faithful courage. When you have faithful courage, you have the energy to commit to the hard work it takes to achieve your goals. When you have faithful courage your passion to pursue your vision will carry you up and over the stumbling blocks that will surely come your way. 

Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them?

Nido: I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting a multitude of transformational leaders and inspiring individuals throughout the years. From Netflix Co-Founder Marc Randolph, HPU’s Entrepreneur in Residence; Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, HPU’s Innovator in Residence; Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall, HPU’s Sport’s Executive in Residence; ABC News’ Byron Pitts, HPU’s Journalist in Residence; and Scott McKain, best-selling author, business consultant, trainer and HPU’s Corporate Educator in Residence; to leaders like Condoleezza Rice and musician Josh Groban, each of these individuals has impacted my life in some way. They reaffirm the art of the possible and how having a growth mindset can lead you to places you never thought possible. I’m a lifelong learner and appreciate every opportunity to learn from others.

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Nido: If you keep your eye on where you are now, you’ll never move forward. The possibilities lie in the future, and smart people try to put themselves where they are going to be. It’s all about finding good mentors. I always looked to surround myself with individuals five, 10 and 15 years my elder to soak up their wisdom and knowledge. 

Adam: What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?

Nido: I remind faculty and staff on campus, “We live, students watch, and students learn,” because students are paying attention to our actions. They need heroes, models and mentors to positively influence their lives and actions. You have to live the example for them to follow. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Nido: As the president of a university that has transformed in the last decade, there are always a million things to do. You must always ask yourself if this activity is worthy of your energy. Think of time in terms of units—a unit equals five minutes and an hour is 12 units. To use 12 or more units, an activity has to be something that’s really worthy of my energy, and that’s determined by the results it leads to.

Some things within your circle of concern are beyond your control. Concentrate on the things you can do something about.

Set goals that are consistent with your purpose in life.

Adam: What are your best leadership lessons from your experience leading a university applicable to a broad range of leaders?

Nido: Admire your heroes. Adapt from your models. Learn from your mentors. I aim to encourage and nurture those around me to embrace their true potential. For students, I teach a class to all freshmen titled, “The President’s Seminar on Life Skills,” sharing the principles, skills and values that one must apply to succeed in an ever-changing world. One of the most important lessons I model and teach is the importance of communication. Through times of growth and change, having civil discourse with all involved has proven invaluable. When people understand the why behind your goals, they become empowered to support moving it forward as well. 

Adam: What are your key goals for High Point in the next three to five years? What is instrumental to your ability to lead your team to reach those goals?

Nido: I look forward to meeting the commitment to invest $1 billion into the university through scholarships and new construction as part of High Point University’s 10-year growth plan. I have always believed that if you lead with faithful courage, anything is possible. Since 2005, High Point University has quadrupled its student enrollment from 1,450 in 2005 to 5,400 students today. In addition, the university expanded its size from 91 to 500 acres, achieved doctoral degree-granting status and founded six new academic schools, for a total of nine academic schools. We are excited to continue our university’s growth and broaden our impact locally, nationally and on a global scale. 

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Nido: My mother once said “who you spend time with is who you become, so if you want to be someone of influence, surround yourself with people of influence. If you want to have a positive attitude, surround yourself with people who have good attitudes. If you want to deal with change confidently and competently, then surround yourself with people who have done exactly that in their own lives.”

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Nido: This world would be a better place if we all modeled the values of service, joy, generosity, gratitude and respect through every day interactions, like holding a door, smiling at a stranger, waving to a friend and picking up trash. Think of life as an act of stewardship, with one-third earning, one-third learning and one-third serving. 

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you as a leader?

Nido: I love learning and relish the opportunity to encourage others by sharing my stories of both success and failure. I wake up at 4 a.m. daily, study for two hours, walk an hour and never go to sleep at night without answering the question: What did I learn today that I didn’t know yesterday.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Nido: Adam, I love that this platform provides an outlet to coach and mentor others. In fact, coachability is a key indicator for how successful individuals will be in their profession. In a recent High Point University poll, 13% of national executive leaders cite coachability as a reason new hires fail. The poll also found that 65% of executives would prefer colleges to equip students with life skills such as motivation, emotional intelligence and the ability to solve problems, as opposed to 35% who said they’d rather colleges instill technical skills such as training on a specific software or subject. At High Point University, we are focused on rendering value for our graduates. When students complete their education here, we want them to possess not only the technical skills needed to launch their career, but the life skills needed to navigate and continuously grow their career. By asking national executives for their perspective, this data empowers our students and informs university leaders as we continue to enhance our holistic educational model to answer the demands of the global marketplace.

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