This is Part 1 of an ongoing series, Leadership in Different Ways: African-American Leadership at North Lake College, in honor of Black History Month.
If you want to spend a day at work with Arthur James, prepare for a lot of quality time in his car.
James is the executive dean of North Lake College’s North and South Campuses, the college’s outposts in Coppell and southern Irving. Each day, he starts working at one of these locations, but then frequently finishes at the other, with a stop or two at Central Campus for meetings.
Leader on the move
“On an average day,” James says, “I will arrive at one of the community campuses, meet and greet staff, and see what’s going on.” He keeps a daily checklist of management tasks, such as accommodating community members who rent rooms for meetings and events. “I do a lot of management by walking around,” James adds. When he makes the 25-minute drive from North to South, or vice versa, James likes to act as the campuses’ mail carrier.
All that driving time gets put to good use. “My car is my classroom,” James says, and he routinely listens to professional development-related audiobooks, seminars, or courses. It’s also a chance to catch up on phone calls—always, he stresses, calling hands-free. James muses, “I’ve never been in a situation where I was able to sit in an office all day.” Not just at North Lake, but at any point in his working life.
A man of many vocations
Before coming to NLC, James was in the hospitality industry, working around Dallas as a hotel manager. He’d known he wanted to be in the hospitality business since he was a teenager, when he watched the 1980s TV drama Hotel, starring James Brolin, which came on right after Dynasty. Taking his cue from Brolin’s character, James started wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase in the 9th grade. “I’ve been wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase ever since.”
“I never thought I’d be in education,” he adds, so strong was his desire to spend a lifetime managing hotels. But in 1995, after telling an old teacher about his desire to give back, James began teaching hospitality and restaurant management at his alma mater, Skyline High School. The year before, he had become a licensed pastor, too. “I was always bivocational,” he explains. Eventually his teaching job led to a similar post at North Lake, and then to becoming the community campuses’ dean. His pastoral role has grown in parallel: he is now the leader of The Transparent Church in Grand Prairie, a 15-minute drive from NLC South Campus.
Do these two jobs influence each other? Of course. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to do both for twenty years,” James says. “As a professor, I would do more counseling in my office than I’d do in my church.” He sees his job as a dean “from a pastoral standpoint,” helping his employees grow and giving them resources they need to thrive. And his experience at North Lake helps in pastoral duties, too. He represents both college and church in the Grand Prairie Chamber of Commerce, and uses those connections to hold job fairs and career fairs at the church. And when does Pastor James find time to listen to other religious leaders’ messages? During his commute, of course.
Never sit still
How does Arthur James make all his drive time work? “Flexibility,” he explains. “No two days are ever the same.” His hospitality background helps, too. Hotel managers never sit still, walking the property and reacting to each day’s challenges. And the customer-service focus of his past career helps, too, since his priorities, as he describes them, are “knowing that our students received service they needed, and knowing staff and faculty have the tools they need.”
As a church leader, Pastor James says his most rewarding experience is “seeing people’s lives change” and creating “an atmosphere where people can succeed.” But that’s not too different from leading two college campuses, is it? No, he admits, it’s not too different at all. Then, our interview over, James heads back to his car and drives to South Campus.