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Phil Kirk Speaks on Leadership at NCCAT Seminar

July 06, 2007

Category: Staff

Phil KirkPhillip J. Kirk Jr., who has helped shaped North Carolina business, government and education policy for more than three decades, believes that having a sense of humor, being willing to admit mistakes and knowing how to express gratitude are among the fundamental qualities of great leadership.

Kirk spoke June 28 to teachers at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching attending the seminar, "Leadership, Creativity and Change." The 24 participants, all 2007­08 Teachers of the Year in their regions and districts, came from all over the state for the annual seminar held June 25­29. The five-day program engaged them in discussions and activities focusing on the characteristics of great leaders.

As a former member of the state legislature, business professional and chairman of the state Board of Education, Kirk over the past 30 years has had many opportunities to observe admirable leaders in action.

"I'm often asked whether leaders are born, or whether they are made," he said. "There is evidence that certain leadership qualities run in families and can be inherited. But we also know that with proper training and development, leadership skills can be acquired."

Kirk said that a good sense of humor often signals strong leadership potential. "Humor is effective when it is used in a good way, not to offend or to hurt someone, but to pump people up and challenge them," he added.

A former English teacher, reporter and president of North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, Kirk currently is vice president for external relations at his alma mater, Catawba College of Salisbury.

He emphasized "the importance of a simple thank-you" for persons who aspire to leadership roles. "Taking the time to write a thoughtful note to express your appreciation and gratitude will always go a long way," he said.

Strong "people skills," or the ability to interact and communicate with all types of personalities, also are important, said the former chief of staff for two North Carolina governors. So are a sense of timing, or knowing the right ;

Kirk was the youngest member ever to serve in the state legislature when he was first elected in 1970. He was the chief of staff for former Govs. James E. Holshouser Jr. and Jim Martin, as well as former U.S. Senator Jim Broyhill. He has worked as a reporter for the Salisbury Post and taught English and journalism in Salisbury schools early in his career.

A member of the board of directors of the NCCAT foundation, he retired in 2003 as chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education. During his six years on the state board, he traveled to 750 schools to visit with students, teachers and administrators. As chairman, he dealt with controversial issues ranging from school mergers to social promotion for students.

"I'm constantly amazed at the complexity of the education issues in our state," he said. "We've learned that seeking as much an input as possible on the issues at hand always pays off. Taking the time necessary for collaboration and feedback saves time down the road."

Kirk reminded the teachers that local chambers of commerce, businesses and industries tend to be highly supportive of the schools in their communities. "Your local leaders want to help your schools," he said. "You just need to let them know what the needs are."