From the Chief Executive Officer’s Desk: IDA Embraces Change and Progress through Service

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February 2016

By Rick Smith

IDA Chief Executive Officer, Rick Smith

Rick Smith, IDA Chief Executive Officer

Lately, servant leadership has been a prominent thought in my mind, a reminder that I need to devote more time to it. Servant leadership is a philosophy that enriches people’s lives and makes organizations such as the International Dyslexia Association more effective. Servant leaders tend to view the world around them differently than traditional leaders. Traditional leaders typically operate in a less inclusive way, one that can lead to confusion in the organization. Traditional leaders usually make decisions and allocate resources within a customary, structured environment where people strictly focus on their department and rarely cross boundaries. Free flowing input and the ability to see new opportunity and quickly change direction often do not exist in traditional, structured atmospheres. Traditional leadership environments sometimes become comfortable with inertia because it’s just easier.

But IDA does not operate in a traditional environment, and we will stick to that approach for as long as I am around. I don’t mean that as an ego-driven statement. I simply do not think that it is in my leadership genes to operate traditionally.  Personally, I would much rather create an environment where decisions are always made with others in mind. In my opinion, it is the duty of servant leaders to be equally or more concerned with those around them than themselves. Servant leaders should always work towards finding common ground in an effort to figure out the very best solutions in times of difficulty, confusion, and chaos. When servant leaders acknowledge that their egos and biases are not important, they are able to put them aside to make the best decision with others in mind. Something mystical happens when servant leadership manifests itself—trust appears and the organization develops humanity.

IDA Finds Common Ground, Makes Bold Decisions

I am proud to say that I have witnessed this mystical experience within my first year at the IDA. I have had the pleasure of meeting thousands of servant leaders. I have watched our organization find common ground and from that common ground came bold decisions that would not have been possible without unconditional trust in the organization. We’ve seen some changes this year, and we’ve made some bold decisions.

We decided to become one organization and behave as one organization viscerally focused on meeting people at their point of need. To provide better tools to schools and teachers of reading, we decided to create a system for certification of teachers. These tools will help teachers reach their students and change their lives. We decided to engage our many servant leaders in Branches within this country and Global Partners around the world to design the IDA Destiny and Six Pathways. We decided to collaborate with those same servant leaders to design an international fundraising and brand advancement initiative called TeamQuest. We decided that we will implement, through finding common ground with Branches, a national information and support network that will touch lives in an intimate and meaningful way.

I suspect these bold decisions could not have been reached in a traditional environment where roles are well defined and everyone knows his or her place. IDA is an organization that thrives on finding common ground and embraces the mess and confusion that surrounds that process. It’s a place where the best and brightest are encouraged to make bold decisions, touch other’s lives whenever possible, and change the world around us. Finally, we are an organization that decided, through a lot of discussion, to wear and display our humanity every day.

Now that’s servant leadership!


Rick Smith, Chief Servant Leader

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