Recently, I had the pleasure of delivering the graduation address to the University of Houston’s Leadership Academy. In the introduction, Provost Paula Short said that I had a career of “Lived Leadership.” Since that weekend, I have thought a great deal about what “lived leadership” means. Certainly, it means I have enjoyed and endured the ups and downs of being in leadership roles, from a preschool teacher, Head Start Director, department chair, dean, vice-chancellor, and university president. My leadership family has grown over the years.

In all of these “lived leadership” positions, it felt like being a part of a real life family. Sometimes, there was sibling rivalry between the leaders, but when the chips were down, we were family. We stood together. Often, we lived through the budget woes like those many families face. We had to delay purchases until the families’ finances were in better shape. Sometimes, the older, bigger, and more esteemed ones had to protect their smaller sisters and brothers until they could grow.

Often the “lived leadership” roles, meant dealing with losses and setbacks. Sometimes the losses were people, like the empty-nest family who had to let the teenager go off to college, we knew people needed to leave us to stretch their leadership wings. Some setbacks were like building the family’s dream home. We had lofty plans, great square footage, but the designs on the architect’s blueprints, the builders’ skills, and our finances did not match. While a favorite project or a grand idea might be admirable, we often had to delay and take a substitute, like the family vacation detoured from an exotic destination to a road trip nearby. Other losses and setbacks were more profound and hurt more like losing a family member or a cherished campus leader.

In the “lived leadership” family, one should not underestimate the value of reunions as a way to keep in touch and to celebrate. The family historians who are storytellers can share photos and recall the struggles and successes. The family comedians can tease the ones with too big egos, even tell a few embarrassing jokes. We can celebrate the children, the students who grew up and became more than we ever expected, the quirky inventor cousin whom we now are courting to give to our family fund, and we can wonder whatever happened to the adventurer, the one who seemed to seek her fate in far off places. But, we will celebrate that we lived as leaders, who were like family.