Big Changes: Called to My Next After 21 Years

Big Changes: Called to My Next After 21 Years

It’s not every day that after 21 years in a role – you decide it’s time for a change. I have been a faculty member at Seattle Pacific University since 1999 and Chair of the Department of Industrial-Organizational Psychology since 2005. On January 8th I announced that I would be moving on from my role at the university on June 30th, and assuming the role of CEO of WiLD Leaders, Inc.

As you can imagine, such a change took deep reflection and discernment with my wife and key people in my life. Creating the MA and Ph.D. programs in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Seattle Pacific with a gifted and supportive team of leaders has been one of the greatest joys of my life, but the call I am experiencing to support and architect the development of leaders across a global range of contexts with the team at WiLD Leaders has become too loud to ignore. It’s hard to imagine, and even harder to realize as I type the words, that I have been in the role of scholar-practitioner for twenty-five years as a faculty member on two great university campuses.

When we launched the MA and Ph.D. programs in Industrial-Organizational Psychology back in 2005, it was after a long and intentional process in how to build a world class program true to our values. When I asked my longtime colleague, Paul Yost, what he thought of the idea of building such a program he said, “It’s a no-brainer.” He was right and is still right today. Eventually, with the help of a wonderfully supportive administration, faculty, and staff, we launched. Today we now have over 300 alumni from our program who are competing nationally with some of the best in the country, and our alums are serving and leading across every major corporation you can imagine and into some of the most impactful not-for-profits in the world. We now even have several alums who are leading programs like ours at other universities. Amazing. While the program is thriving and producing practicing scholars who are leading all over place, it is never a good time to leave as a professor, leader and mentor. As I have said many times (not in a fatalistic way, but from my heart), if it all ended tomorrow, the gift of working with our students, faculty and staff over the years would have been enough to fill all the work fulfillment buckets out there for me.

In the moments that followed my statement to our university community that I was leaving, I didn’t know how people would respond or if they would at all. After all, life goes on and we are all busy. I should have known better. The affirmation from so many has been overwhelming. While many have expressed surprise, the pauses to affirm me and my decision tied with a “you’ll be missed” comment over email or in the hall are sentiments that I will always treasure.

So, what’s ahead for me? On June 30th I will assume the full time role as CEO of WiLD Leaders, Inc. The mission of WiLD Leaders is to intentionally invest in the development of a generation of courageous and sacrificial leaders. No small task, but one that will require my full attention in the months and years ahead. For those who do not know, when I established WiLD Leaders, Inc. several years ago and launched the WiLD Toolkit – a whole leader developmental system –  it was to radically transform how we develop leaders. We were pushing for a reformation of the paradigms that have gotten in the way of deeper learning, growth, and support for the leaders out there who are so often isolated and alone – making their way without the necessary intentional preparation for what’s ahead. As the impact and influence of WiLD Leaders has grown over the last few years, so too has the need for more of me to fulfill the mission of the organization with the wonderful team of leaders who surround it. The need for intentionally supporting and surrounding leaders across corporate, not-for-profit and university contexts is so overwhelming and the need for investing with them is so vast – I must go there next. Like anyone would be at a time of transition like this, I am over the moon excited and also full of the natural nerves that come with that excitement.

I am deeply grateful to the leadership at Seattle Pacific University and to President Dan Martin for his care and encouragement every step of the way – and to Paul Yost, Joey Collins, Dana Kendall, Margaret Diddams, Chloe Hays, Megan Lawrence, Brianna Piedmonte and the rest of our faculty and staff over the years for their belief in our mission and in me, and for creating the greatest team we could imagine with me. To the rest of our faculty, stakeholders, alumni, administration, and our board – thank you. I am in awe of you. If my children come to Seattle Pacific University, I will be the proudest dad you can imagine. I am so thankful for the support and love I have always received from my wife Jackie and our sons Aidan and Ryan.

To my students over the years who are now influential leaders across the globe, if I had to pick 20 random people to helicopter into any crisis in the world, I would pick from you all. Your capacity to lead strong and with the greatest care and compassion is world class – a class that the world is in such desperate need for today.


Dr. Rob McKenna


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