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Hoekstra brings leadership experience to a new position

By Sally Jongsma

Dr. Erik Hoekstra describes his first six weeks back on campus as jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool—and mostly swimming, despite the volume of work that needs doing each spring at any institution.

Dr. Erik Hoekstra was named Dordt's first provost in January.

Dr. Erik Hoekstra was named Dordt's first provost in January.

Hoekstra began his duties as provost on March 1, almost two months earlier than first planned. As provost, Hoekstra is the chief academic officer at Dordt College, but he describes his role as one member of the Administrative team.

It’s been an unusual spring on campus. Two of the three academic deans have been off campus. Dr. John Kok, dean of the humanities, is on leave, and Dr. Charles Adams, dean of the natural sciences, has been in the hospital since a serious car accident on February 17. (For more on the Adams’s conditions go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/charliepamadams.) A new Core Curriculum is poised to go into effect in the fall, requiring additional time to work out the details and to balance faculty loads and schedules. And several new faculty members needed to be hired.

Hoekstra is quick to express his appreciation for the many on campus that pitched in and took on additional responsibilities because of the unexpected convergence of events this spring. He also appreciates the assistance and advice that Dr. Rockne McCarthy has given him as he begins. Hoekstra thrives on tackling such challenges. As he talks, his energy and enthusiasm for the work shows—and never as strongly as when he talks about how he hopes to lead the campus community. That leadership is based on the servant leader model.

“We need to glorify God not just through the results of our organizations, but in how we run them,” he says. “In my personal mission statement I’ve said that I want to help create organizations that amaze people and glorify God in the way they operate,” he continues. He’s tried to do that in the world of business and plans to work out of that perspective at Dordt College as well. In his experience, Christian organizations and non-profits, especially, have a predisposition to artificial harmony rather than productive conflict. Such an approach can pull an organization down rather than allow it to grow and develop, he says.

Hoekstra believes that collaboration, transparency, responsibility, and accountability are needed for organizational health. That conviction and his leadership style have been honed in the past eight years through his work as a Principal and Partner of Harbor Group, a holding company for six engineering and construction, industrial automation, and management consulting businesses. As a former board member at Northwestern College in Orange City, he helped set up a Center for Servant Leadership there. And servant leadership is the model he urged as an organizational management consultant for companies and organizations across the country.

Hoekstra points to I Corinthians 13 as a call to show love by doing what is in the best interest of others. For leaders, that means, in prayerful discernment, trying to understand how members of a community best work together for the benefit of both individuals and the organization—essentially, giving servant leadership.

“If you go to Barnes and Noble and look for books on organizational leadership, a third of them will be on that style of leadership,” says Hoekstra. “The world is beginning to see what we know—that working in sync with the created order works best.” He calls it leading as imagebearers.

Hoekstra agrees with Steven Covey, who points out in his book Speed of Trust that trust is a crucial component in leading. Trust is a dividend that allows an organization to get things done, and lack of trust is a tax that slows things down, according to Covey. Without trust, leaders and coworkers always have to be checking on each other and have less time to do good work. Hoekstra adds, “Sometimes trust breaks down, but then members of the community seek forgiveness of one another and work for healing as they go on.”

Although Hoekstra has come most recently out of the business world and has helped many businesses adopt such a model, he believes it is a model for all organizations, including families, churches, schools, and service organizations. Leaders, parents, and teachers in a community help distribute responsibilities and hold people accountable.

“We are ‘we,’ not ‘us’ and ‘them,’” says Hoekstra about the kind of environment needed to work in this way. “As a leader I need to extend trust, assuming that people act out of their best intentions. When something isn’t going well, I need first to ask how my behavior may have created this.”

That’s his goal, but he also knows it’s not an easy one to live up to. “Research shows that the most productive businesses and organizations are those with the happiest employees.” He prays that under his leadership Dordt College will continue to be a productive institution.