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On leadership: A Q&A with Curtis Meadows

As a part of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs Leadership Lecture Series, Curtis Meadows shares his thoughts on innovative leadership practices burgeoning in the nonprofit and nongovernmental sectors.

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The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs will feature Curtis Meadows, director emeritus of the Meadows Foundation, as the third speaker in the Leadership Lecture Series on Oct. 27. Here, Meadows shares his thoughts on innovative leadership practices burgeoning in the nonprofit and nongovernmental sectors.

Curtis Meadows


Q: The title of your talk is Innovative Leadership in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Institutions. Can you give us a preview of what your talk will entail?

A. Three great sectors have been created in this nation to meet the needs of our citizens. Government establishes the framework for determining the common good and providing for the common welfare. The free enterprise business sector seeks to enable economic opportunity and employment for our citizens. The limitations of these two sectors have given rise to a third sector composed of individual and group actions. This non-government and nonprofit area seeks to fill in gaps, meet specific needs, test new solutions and enable religious, artistic and other expressions. A critical task of leadership in this sector then becomes innovative thinking and creative action.

Q: You have held leadership positions with the Meadows Foundation of Texas for 18 years and now hold the title of director emeritus. Can you tell us about the Meadows Foundation and its mission?

A. The Meadows Foundation resulted from the decision of its founder, Algur H. Meadows, a successful oil man, to dedicate his accumulated resources to benefit the people of Texas and assist with their ongoing needs and aspirations. During its 62 years of existence, the foundation has made close to $650 million in gifts and grants to assist the work of almost 4,000 charitable organizations and programs throughout the state involved in the arts, social services, health, education, civic, religious and other causes.

Q: You are also the chair of the advisory council for the LBJ School’s RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service. What is the RGK Center and why have you chosen to be involved?

A. The RGK Center arose out of a desire to engage students and faculty members throughout The University of Texas at Austin in discussions about how this third sector challenges and enables individual responsibility and group action on behalf of the welfare of others. Some students will seek to make a career in this work, but almost all will, at some time in their lives, engage in supporting financially and with volunteer service nonprofit organizations. The RGK Center strives to contribute to understanding how the sector works and could be improved, as well as explore its contributions to our society and national character through education, research and outreach programs.

Q: Why has community service and philanthropy played such a large role in your professional career?

A. I grew up in a home where caring for the welfare and concerns of others was constantly taught and demonstrated. It became a deeply ingrained practice for me personally and my respect for those dedicating their lives to helping others grew with each volunteer experience. As a tax lawyer, I studied and tried to understand the rational for the sector and its rules and boundaries. When I became president of the Meadows Foundation I was able to see firsthand the struggles and challenges of creating and operating an ongoing effort to deal with many of the most difficult issues of our times. This experience of being up close and personal with the leaders of this work has motivated me ever since to try to help them as much as possible.

Q: There is a new trend in education of blending nonprofit and business management. Nonprofits are seeking managers with business experience and businesses are seeking those with nonprofit management experience. Where do you see this trend going?

A. With the revolution in communications and electronics, we live in a time when human need here and around the world is more apparent, confrontive and personal to us. When moved to act on behalf of a cause or concern, we want assurance that our contributions of time and resources will be used ethically, efficiently and effectively by leaders with management skills, as well as good intentions. This trend will continue to put pressure on nonprofit organizations to insure that their leaders have operational skills as well as inspirational ones.

At the same time, businesses are being called upon to not only make a profit with their work, but to do so with a sensitivity to human and environment concerns. Nonprofit workers, trained to operate more on values than by profit motivation, can offer businesses potentially valuable insights into public concerns about businesses operations. The trend here is less certain but worthy of monitoring for more developments.

Curtis Meadows will be the third speaker in the Leadership Lecture Series on Oct. 27 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in Bass Lecture Hall, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, 2315 Red River St.

Learn more about this and other Leadership Lecture Series events.