Leading by Listening

 

Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the November 2019 Issue

leading by listening

As Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar embarks on her fourth month as the new president at the University of Central Oklahoma, she’s sharply focused on channeling the needs and hopes of her staff and students. In fact, she’s spent much of her inaugural time in meetings with a broad range of advisory groups—a process she describes as time-consuming, but completely worthwhile.

“I’m getting a broad perspective of ideas and I’m constantly being inspired by stories about how impactful UCO is in people’s lives. We have intelligent, creative people here. I believe the best way to lead is to channel these creative voices so that UCO is forward-thinking and nimble.

Neuhold-Ravikumar is responsible for a tremendously large operation, covering a 210-acre campus, 2,000 faculty and staff, and 15,000 students. She’s not a new face on campus, as she’s worked at UCO for 12 years, most recently as the Chief Financial Officer. She notably led the institution through the $10.5 million dollar decline of tuition revenue and $12.3 million loss in state funding, without sacrificing any jobs on campus. It’s a feat that led her to receive the President’s Award in Applied Leadership in 2018.

“I believe that every experience, decision and destination in my life has prepared me for this opportunity, not one particular moment,” Neuhold-Ravikumar said.

One of those many experiences involved singing cows. “I haven’t talked about that one in a long time,” Neuhold-Ravikumar said, laughing as she remembered the scene. “I was in a sorority at Oklahoma Christian University, and one of their yearly competitions, called Spring Sing, is for all the clubs to dress up in costume and sing clever lyrics about a particular theme. We picked cows. I was the co-director, and yes, it was utterly silly—but we actually won that year!

Spring Sing was one of her early experiences in successfully leading a group of people, but her formal background as she moves into her presidential role is, surprisingly, not in management or accounting...or music. She has two psychology degrees, in which she largely focused on how groups function. “I actually believe I’ve used it every day, because understanding how an organization is structured and how communication works is so important in higher education.

It’s one of the reasons Neuhold-Ravikumar feels so strongly about spending time learning alongside the people she leads and in meeting those who wouldn’t normally have a voice in deciding where the university is headed.

“Our students trust us with their dreams and hopes and aspirations. I approach this role with excitement and reverence. This university began in 1890 when we were a small, year-old community that began with people running by horse and buggy to grab a stake in the land. Then this huge, beautiful, modern-for-the-time building, Old North, was built. It was the biggest thing in town!”

Neuhold-Ravikumar now sits in that same stone building, playing her own role in the school’s 129-year history. She’s the 21st president and the institution’s first female president. “UCO is proud to educate the citizens of the metropolitan Oklahoma City area, to fill jobs, and to be leaders for this community. The institution and this community—we’re all a part of each other. We are family. I want to get this right.”

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