The following is a conversation between Father Edward “Monk” Malloy, the author of People First: Reflections on Leadership, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.

Denver: Father Edward “Monk” Malloy is President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, where he served as president from 1987 to 2005. He’s the author of many books, including People First: Reflections on Leadership, a book that distills a wealth of leadership wisdom gleaned from his extensive career in education and community service.

Father Malloy has served on 32 separate boards, each offering its own unique challenges and lessons. These experiences have enriched his understanding and shaped his distinct perspectives on leadership, which he generously shares in this book.

Welcome to The Business of Giving, Monk.

Father Edward “Monk” Malloy, the author of People First: Reflections on Leadership

Monk: Alright, thanks very much. I look forward to it, Denver.

Denver: You know, you taught leadership seminars to first year students for years and years and years. What made you expand these discussions into a book?

Monk: Well, after I stepped down as president, I knew I had the freedom to pursue various topics, so I wrote a three-part memoir, kind of recalling my life from being born to finishing my presidential years.

I wrote a couple of short books about Notre Dame, kind of sharing stories that I knew that other people didn’t know. And then I thought, “Well, what am I going to do next?” And I had read a lot of books about leadership, well, I heard a lot of talks, and I thought, “Well, I have a few things to say, but I need to find a format that works.” So, I got the help of an editor, and she advised me to focus in a way where I imagine a seminar with first-year undergrads where they ask me questions, and that gives me a lot of freedom to go in a lot of different directions. And so I think it works. It was a way of having short responses to short questions, but allows me to take a lot of topics in one book. So, it’s been a lot of fun to do.

Denver: Yeah. Yeah. And it comes across as a conversation, which when you’re reading a book these days is a real asset. Sometimes, it just goes on and on and on, and here you feel like there’s somebody talking to you. And many of the questions that you did ask are the ones that probably  a reader would be thinking top of mind.

Monk: Well, let’s hope so.

“For me, people are everything. We wouldn’t exist without people.” 

Denver: Yeah, let’s hope so. You know, the title of your book emphasizes putting people first. Why do you believe this is the most important principle for effective leadership?

Monk: I think all the other things that we do in leadership positions– preparing budgets or reviewing budgets, putting together ten-year game plans, worrying about the physical campus, worrying about some of the other dynamics that are necessary, like risk management or investing in the institution going forward, for me, people are everything. We wouldn’t exist without people. 

Universities are called to serve the students entrusted to our care and also to serve the people out there in the broader context of life. For us, it includes the Catholic Church, but also the broader civil society. 

And so I tried to write a book that respected my role as a priest and as a moral theologian that would be available to a much broader audience, and I think the topic of people– hiring people well, motivating them and training them, evaluating them, trying to reward them effectively, and then getting them to work together in some kind of team context, seems to me… that’s at the heart of leadership.

That’s true I think in the military; it’s true in government; it’s true in not-for-profit organizations, and it’s truly true in universities.

Denver: Yeah, no, that’s well said. And it is true. I think we sometimes get so focused on the goals that we forget about the relationships and the people that make those goals come to pass; we just get laser-focused on the other end. It’s a big mistake.

You know, there’s probably a question on a lot of  listeners’ minds: During your tenure at Notre Dame, which continues now, you’ve had various forms of student activism and campus protests, and goodness knows, college presidents are certainly encountering a challenging time at present. What are the key considerations for university administrators in responding to such politically-charged protests while upholding principles of free speech and campus safety? 

Monk: Well, I’m a big supporter of academic freedom and the possibility of different parts of our constituencies to express themselves about whatever.

You don’t want to have somebody come in and yell, “Fire!” in a crowded auditorium or have false information. You don’t want any violence, and you want to organize protests in such a way that they don’t disrupt the life of the campus.

One of the problems with what’s happened in some of the institutions this year is it seemingly came out of the blue, although people were very charged about what was going on in the Middle East. Some of the campuses have a large constituency of people who have vested interest in the different sides in what’s going on in Palestine or Gaza and Israel and some of the surrounding areas. I’ve been to all those countries.

Many times I’ve been to Palestine in Israel; I’ve been to Gaza; I’ve been to Lebanon and Jordan. I haven’t been to Egypt, but I’ve been close to Egypt. And so I think at least I have some perspective of why it’s so complicated. What the groups have done is that there was some preparation from what I read. People that were involved in previous protests about other causes have advised the ones doing it now how to get maximum coverage by the media. And it’s been very effective in that regard, especially if you do something on the weekends when nothing else is happening. The media is all over it because they’re really… especially television… is well set up to cover such things.

Here at Notre Dame, we had some small protests, very peaceful. We had some students who wanted to get arrested because they thought that would help make their mark. We arrested some, but in the broader campus, there was no great sympathy or opposition. That was just something going on that did not engage a broad cross section of our community.

We don’t have very many Jewish students; we don’t have not very many Muslim students, at least, that are in the undergraduate student body. And that was part of the reason why we didn’t have as much concern expressed here.

“It depends on successful fundraising and having a good story to tell to get the money in the first place.”

Denver: You know, let’s talk about some of your time at Notre Dame, and boy, you made some significant strides in academic reputation, research output, international profile. I think your endowment went from something like $456 million to $3 billion during that tenure. What are your strategies for growth? How did you enable that to occur?

Monk: Well, first of all, it depends on successful fundraising and having a good story to tell to get the money in the first place.

Denver: Yeah.

Monk: Our graduates, over time, some of them have gone on to be quite wealthy and generous, and so that helps a lot. Many members of our board of trustees, for example, have given us substantial sums of money. 

And then if you use the money well, they’re motivated the second time around to give again, and that’s very important too. 

Thanking people that have given you money is really important. 

So, fundraising is the first part of it, using it effectively in whatever… if it’s building a building, or establishing endowed professorship, or scholarships for various levels of students. 

And then, we have a very successful investment group that has had excellent leadership and that has allowed us… all things being equal… to have substantial growth.

Once you get to a certain level of endowment, it’s simply a mathematical formula, that if you get X number of improvements in that, then at a certain point, it’s quite impressive how much money you have in the endowment. 

Now, almost all of that money is preordained for some purpose. It’s not like it’s just sitting there, but you want some flexibility to handle, like COVID. We had substantial available dollars to overcome the losses that happened as a result of the COVID infection.

Denver: Let me ask you a couple of other questions about leadership, and I want to pick up on what you said a moment ago about your travels… and you have traveled extensively. What cross-cultural leadership insights have you gained through those travels? 

Monk: My predecessor, Father Ted Hesburgh, who was president for 35 years, was a big traveler. And so since I succeeded him, the board of trustees thought, “Well, that’s what presidents do.” 

Denver: I got you.

Monk: The same thing with participating in boards. I could never have been on all the boards I’ve been on …and they have different titles, if I had not established ahead of time that this was a good thing to do for the university.

In some places, they say to the new president, “Stay here. Spend all your time on campus.” I thought that would be foolish for me.

The Catholic church is the most universal organization in the world, and we needed to take full advantage of that. But also, we were trying to make Notre Dame better known and establish coordinated programs and the visitation by faculty from across the globe. I think this worked very well for us.

One of the things we did when I was president, we hosted the international meeting of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, which brought presidents from all over the world, and they saw what we do here, and that was very important.

Denver:  Did that fit your personality, Monk, in terms of doing all that traveling, sitting on all those boards? Or, is that something that was an acquired taste, if you will?

Monk:  When I was an undergraduate student, I did a couple of service projects in Mexico and Peru. It opened up the world to me. And from that point on, I’ve been very curious. So, when I go to a new place, I usually read about it beforehand, and then I read about it afterhand, and then try to learn as much as I can.

And on these trips, I mean, you can make trips. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the novel, The Accidental Tourist, but it’s somebody who goes and wants to stay in American-style hotels, eat American food, and never go out of the comfort zone, so to speak. So, that’s not what I do. When I go, I try and see what I can, and as a result, I’ve learned an awful lot, and I think that’s helped my leadership role.

“Best boards have a balance between presentation and participation. And when that happens, I think everybody feels energized, is happy to be part of the board, wants to continue, and actually shows up.”

Denver: You know, probably sitting on those 32 boards helped your leadership role as well. Would there be a common thread or two of the best boards that you’ve sat on that is consistent?

Monk: I think some boards have a tendency to just be reporting from different members of the leadership group of the agency or whatever it is, university. It means kind of a passive role of the members of the board. Now, there can be committee work also, so that can engage a lot of people. But I think that the best boards have a balance between presentation and participation. And when that happens, I think everybody feels energized, is happy to be part of the board, wants to continue, and actually shows up.

I think there are some boards that have non-participating members that only come once in a while or are only used for specific purposes. I think that’s very problematic. 

Obviously, board chairs have a big role to play since they usually oversee the actual meetings, and the best boards have been people that were astute in figuring out how to find the balance that I mentioned.

Denver: You know, I had breakfast with a nonprofit CEO yesterday morning, and he was complaining that when he talks to the staff, maybe like some of those passive boards, they just sit there. They don’t get any response or any reaction.

And I was wondering, Monk, how leaders can motivate others to achieve common goals even if the path forward is challenging. And they, of course, have their own parochial concerns in their own area or their own department. How do you lift up the entire organization to go after those common goals?

Monk: Well, I believe that every organization has a set of purposes that it exists for, and it has dreams about what its future will entail. And constantly repeating that, especially when new members join, and using that as a test of how we’re doing, is really, really important so that people do not live in isolated enclaves, but feel that they’re part of the general enterprise.

For example, at Christmas time, you might imagine Notre Dame has a lot of gatherings.

Denver: Yes.

Monk: It’s the big thing to do. I paid special attention to the people that were the lowest on the pecking order… people like the ones who work in the laundry, or the maids and janitors, or the dining hall workers or whatever. They’re all really important, and I tried when I would speak to them and when I would meet with them, to convince them that what they did was really important to the health and wellbeing of the institution as a whole. And I started hearing them saying, “Well, I’m at Notre Dame, and I have a really important job there.” That’s what you want to hear. 

Denver:  Yeah. 

Monk:  And then when people have completed X number of years of service, you want to honor that; and then when they retire, you want to make a big deal of that. When somebody gets honored somewhere else, you want to make sure that that’s recognized.

I think all of these seemingly small steps are really important.

“”Why are we spending all that money in Times Square, in Piccadilly Circus, in all this advertising?” And they said, “Because we are arguably the most recognizable brand in the world. We need to hype that.””  

Denver: Yeah, no, that’s so true. I think that very often, a lot of people really don’t understand what their job… how it’s connected to the overall mission of the organization. And when a leader can draw that linkage and say, “Wow, you know, this is really a key linchpin here!”

Well, let me pick up a little bit on that, about effective communication. You mentioned it twice there, I think, in terms of reaching out to some of the people at the lower rungs of the organization, and also the importance of repeating things. What was your philosophy of communicating effectively to the entire enterprise of Notre Dame?

Monk: One of the things that I tried to do was visit the different units, particularly on the academic side, but also elsewhere each year to get feedback. And then we had common organizations like the Academic Council where we’d have representative people from all the particular units of the institution, and we would talk about important factors. And one of my roles in that situation was to reiterate what was being said at the beginning of the year, “This is why we exist. These are the goals we’re trying to achieve, and each of you has a part in that. So let’s make sure we keep reminding ourselves of the central purposes of the institution as we talk about concrete things that we can quibble about.”

Denver: Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for repetition. I know sometimes leaders get concerned that people are sick and tired of hearing it, but actually I think it’s the leaders who are sick and tired of saying it. And often, you just can’t say it enough.

Monk:  One of the old stories that I have is Don Keough, who was the chairman of the board at Notre Dame when I was elected and for many years after that… Coca-Cola, yeah. 

We have the Golden Dome… it’s our main building, and it is one of the most recognizable buildings representing any campus in the country. Every so often, we have to re-gild it and so when we re-gild it, some people will say, “Well, you’re spending all that money on the gold. What about us?”

Most of the money goes into the scaffolding to put the gold on, and the gold’s not that expensive… it was so thin.

Anyway, when that happened one time at Notre Dame, he said the same thing happened in the Coca-Cola company. They said, “Why are we spending all that money in Times Square, in Piccadilly Circus, and all this advertising?” And they said, “Because we are arguably the most recognizable brand in the world. We need to hype that. And you’re complaining about some small outlay in these places. We reiterate this over and over again, so that we don’t lose that niche in the broader advertising field.”

Denver: Yeah. Symbolism and rituals and things of that sort mean everything in terms of a brand. Because even when you think about your fundraising, it really does lead with your brand. You got a great brand, and that’s what makes the money possible.

Monk: Yes, we hope that’s always going to be the case.

Denver: Let me talk about some of your personal influences on leadership. How did your experience as a basketball player at Notre Dame shape your approach to teamwork and leadership later in life?

Monk: As a basketball player, I was on a high school team that was Mythical National Champions. My senior year and the following year, we won 55 straight games.

Denver: Wow.

Monk: And we were really good, and we also were a college style as far as talent level and all that.

Anyway, we were the first great integrated team in the history of the metropolitan area of D.C., the capital city, and a lot of people related to us as an example of successful integration. And so the team concept was really central to when I was playing in high school. And it allowed us collectively to represent what was going on in the Civil Rights Movement… with what was happening in the broader culture around us.

At one time, we went to an all-white team in the Maryland suburbs, and one of the people said, “Well, we want you to use the showers first because we’re going to fumigate them after you use them.” When we went to an all-black team and they were critiquing my black teammates because they had white guys on the team….I mean, all that kind of stuff was all so petty.

Anyway, I learned from that experience how important it was to stick together and to have a sense of camaraderie and to bring out the best in each other.

I’ll give you an example. One time, one of our opponents decided to put one person on me and then play a zone, a zone and one.

Denver: Yeah, box and 1.

Monk: Because I was the best outside shooter, and the rest of the team is so mad at that. They did everything they could to keep getting me open. We did that for everybody. If somebody was being overplayed, we wanted to make sure that they excelled in that particular format.

And so, in college, we carried on, and then as a basketball player and a fan of a lot of other good teams, the teams that I always enjoyed watching were the ones that had the best team concept, that brought out the best in each other… and same thing in other sports… the football teams that I enjoy watching, it’s the same thing.

Denver: Well, who are some of those teams?

Monk: You learn discipline. You learn to bring out the best in each other. You learn the challenge of dealing with defeat as well as victory.

Anyway, I think there’s a lot to be learned in sports, and it carries over into leadership.

Denver: Is there a basketball team you’ve enjoyed watching because of that very reason you just gave? I mean, in addition to Notre Dame, of course.

Monk: Well, recently, when they were in their prime, the Golden State Warriors were great because they had a great team concept and wonderful players. Historically, way back, the Boston Celtics, who won a lot of championships, they were great on the team concept. And Bill Russell, the star center, he didn’t have great… he had a lot of block shots and rebounds, but his number of offensive points wasn’t that great. But he allowed everybody else to excel, and they would add people at the end of their careers who could bring something in addition to the pre-established players. Anyway, those were a few.

Denver: Yeah, yeah. Well, I remember those Celtic teams, and it was amazing how some journeyman players would show up and put on that uniform. You would say…

Monk: That’s right.

Denver: “Where’s this been for their whole career?” You know, they just mesh. 

As a Catholic priest, how does your faith inform your philosophy of leadership and the advice that you give to others?

Monk: Well, I’ve had a very enjoyable life as a priest. I discerned my call when I was an undergraduate student on a trip to Mexico. I played a lot of different roles, but most of them have been in the academy.

The priest president, for example, almost all the big events at Notre Dame have a mass connected to them: orientation, junior-parent weekend, commencement. When there’s a tragedy like the death of a student, we have a big mass. When 9/11 happened, we had a mass for 10,000 people on one of our quads. This is just what we do. 

Now, that’s not the only context. People look to me as somebody, especially as a moral theologian, who might have something to say about some of the great issues of the day.

I’ve been on the Boys and Girls Club board for 25 years, and I’ve served as the ethicist on the board. And that just shows, I think, that they like having somebody like me around even though that’s a civil board and not a religious one. But I mean, the mission is so significant and one that I totally embrace.

So, it allows me to have a credibility I think in certain circles that I think can add something special to the board.

Denver: Yeah. Monk, looking back, what leadership achievements at Notre Dame are you most proud of, and what do you think your most important leadership legacy has been and will be?

Monk: When I stepped down as president, I was asked that question a number of times, and my answer goes something like this: I inherited a Notre Dame that had a lot of positive momentum from the Hesburgh years of leadership. I wasn’t forced to do some of the harsh things that some presidents have to do, like trying to deal with indebtedness, or lay people off, or that sort of thing. So, what I tried to do was continue the momentum and then identify some areas that I had a special interest in.

So, looking back, I said that we made progress in co-education because we started out as an all-male institution; in diversity because we were a largely white institution; in internationalization which we talked about a little bit; in balanced budgets; in town relationships, the relationship to our neighborhood around us; in the quality of teaching; in our research environment, and in our investments especially when it comes to financial aid.

Now, I can’t take credit for all of those, but they happened under my watch. I was surrounded by really good people, and I think as I look back on my time of leadership, I can say that in each of those areas, I think we made significant progress.

Denver: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a nice basket full of achievements. There’s no question about it.

Finally, Monk, as someone who’s been surrounded by young people their entire life, what advice do you have for young people who aspire to leadership roles in their future careers and communities, particularly in light of the challenges that we face today?

Monk: Well, I’ve just finished… I had my last class. I teach a seminar every semester, and in my little homilette that I gave them when we were gathering together for a meal, I said, “You are all talented and bright, and you have social skills, and the world needs you to play leadership roles of whatever kind. Some will be more public and demonstrative; others will be quieter, but all of you have the capacity to make a difference in some area of life. And if you pass that up, the world will be less secure, less meaningful, less loving. 

And that’s why I think you have a special obligation because you have God-given talents, so strive to make a difference. Now, for some of you, it’ll be more advanced education, or some kind of experiences that you haven’t had up to now.  But if you take advantage of all that’s available to you, I’m convinced all of you collectively, but each of you individually, can make a significant difference in the quality of life that we enjoy.”

Denver: Yep. We only have one life. We can’t squander it by letting that opportunity pass.

The title of Father Edward Malloy’s book is People First: Reflections on Leadership– highly recommended for anyone interested in making a meaningful impact through leadership.

Thanks, Monk, for being here today. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.

Monk: I enjoyed it very much, Denver. Thank you. 

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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