Leading to Be the Best
Northwest University was delighted this weekend to receive the news that Intelligent.com named us the Best Christian Institution in its Best Colleges in Washington for 2021. We found further encouragement in the fact that they ranked Northwest #8 among the best 49 colleges in the State of Washington.
Admittedly, colleges do not always like the rankings that different organizations publish, and we don’t always agree with their criteria—which vary pretty widely among the different rankings out there. But I particularly liked the way Intelligent.com managed their findings. Rather than emphasizing what they determined to be the best ten colleges overall, they focused on recognizing the best colleges in a broad range of categories. For example, they considered Gonzaga to be the Best Catholic Institution, Whitman to be the Best Liberal Arts Institution, and Seattle U to be the Best Private Institution, while the University of Washington was indisputably the Best Research Institution. Washington State University received the overall #1 ranking and the label of the “Intelligent Pick.” Across the range of their choices, it appears that they did a great job of recognizing excellence based on what colleges and universities actually set out to achieve. They clearly understand that diversity of institutional types contributes powerfully to the excellence of the American higher education system.
Northwest University would exhibit pure foolishness to think it could compete with the University of Washington in just about any category of research. Neither do we imagine that we can displace Whitman College as the best liberal arts college in the state. Neither has it ever entered our minds to figure as the most Catholic university in the state. Our history and mission does, however, make it reasonable for us to strive to be the Best Christian Institution in Washington. While our funding cannot match that of better-endowed or state-sponsored schools, we manage to bring in enough funding to achieve significant excellence in our national Carnegie Classification among “Master's Colleges & Universities: Medium Programs,” even as we strive to achieve promotion to the level of “Doctoral/Professional Universities” by continually adding doctoral specialties to our program offerings. Our ranking as #8 suggests, as we believe, that we do an excellent job in the category we belong to. We would have no interest in recognition as the “Best Christian Institution” if we did not also achieve excellence as a university, realizing as David once said in the Bible, that we “would not offer the Lord a sacrifice that costs us nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).
A powerful leadership principle emerges from this analysis. Organizations and institutions do not have to achieve everything, but they must excel at their “main thing.” In 1996, the Board of Directors of Yale University decided that their endowment would not suffice to allow them to realistically seek to be “the best” at everything, so they decided to follow a policy of selective excellence. They would not try to do everything, but they would seek to be the best at whatever they chose to do. No one can argue that they have not achieved remarkable excellence! Along the way, the pride of their constituency—and their endowment—grew remarkably, to the point that they have now built the second largest university endowment in America.
Virtually all leaders need to know exactly what niche their organization fits in. By seeking excellence in their primary mission and richly rewarding the expectations of their constituents for that main thing, they can earn distinction in their service and popular recognition for their success. Recognized as the top Christian institution in Washington state higher education, Northwest University praises God for the privilege of bearing that name (Peter 4:16).