John Vinson

Be flexible enough to readjust your expectations.


John Vinson, Assistant Vice President for the University of Washington, chose his career path to make a difference. He enjoys the energy of the higher education environment of colleges and university campuses. In addition, Vinson has served in law enforcement for more than twenty-five years. Not only does he serve to ensure that students, staff, and the campus community are safe, Chief John Vinson has also taught students about law enforcement and other topics for the past eighteen years.

John Vinson was born in Michigan. He attended Central Michigan University where he completed his undergraduate studies and a Master’s degree. He then went on to obtain Ph.D. in Public Administration from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While pursuing law enforcement, John Vinson began teaching undergraduate and graduate students. He has continued teaching at community colleges and Universities since then as it continues to be his passion to get involved with the community around him. He has been recognized for Higher Education Leadership for the past 14 years and he also serves as the President of the IACLEA – International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

In terms of higher education and police in general, my desire was to be in an environment where I could make a difference. It is where I can make students, faculty, staff and administration feel safe in their respective campus communities. I wanted to serve as a role model where students can come to a university environment and live, work, and study, but also have fun along the way. That vision is something that I wanted to have incorporated as part of safety policy initiatives for higher education institutions.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

In my position as Assistant Vice President for Campus and Community Safety, I evaluate policies, strategies, and assessments. I spend time conducting research and having conversations with campus and community stake-holder groups to determine where they see the collaborative safety strategy for the entire campus community. It varies from day-to-day. I have meetings with our diverse community members, one-on-one with stake-holders, administrators, students, and faculty. Our goal is to ensure a comprehensive and transparent adaptable approach to improve the overall safety of the campus community.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The way I bring ideas to life is through a shared, community-based approach. Every time there is an opportunity to really be the best, we want an environment where we are viewed as the leading authority in campus public safety. One of the ways we do that is through collaborative efforts, such as conversations, webinars and brainstorming sessions. We get as many stakeholders involved in those conversations as possible. During this process, the team is tasked with generating new ideas. We look at those ideas strategically before arriving at a conclusion. We develop a strategic plan with goals and objectives set with measurable outcomes, which often times, are dictated by budget and resource allocations.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One trend that excites me is really using technology and data to assure public safety in a much better way. It shows what you’re doing is effective, of value, and has a cost-effective ROI. Anytime there is an opportunity to evaluate programs, processes, and systems, having technology available is what makes the more innovative and effective. Our stake-holders and committee members can see the actual positive outcome. That is what really excites me.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I would say one habit of mine is my focus on health and wellness. I take care of myself. More specifically, I exercise on a regular basis and try to keep a routine exercise schedule. I take time out throughout the day for mental breaks. I get up and walk around to put myself in a space to encourage connectivity and positivity. That is what keeps me going.

What advice would you give your younger self?

What I would tell younger John Vinson is ‘be flexible enough to readjust your expectations’. It is good to have high standards. However, at the same time, it can also be necessary at times to slow-down. You should re-evaluate where everyone is to bring them along in a positive way rather than pushing them along in an urgent way. Moving too fast may cause dissension within the process. It is a matter of looking at the processes differently to try to ensure that everyone is engaged. It may take a little extra time to get complete buy-in, but sometimes you have to make those adjustments. That is the advice I would give younger John Vinson.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That my passion for running marathons around the world should be shared by everyone.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I try to make sure that I have clearly defined goals and desired outcomes. We know where we are and where we need to go. More importantly, we recognize that there may be adjustments along the way but we identified where that end-goal is. We still push forward and still pursue that goal, which is something that has always worked for me. It is good to have a direction and clear path, with flexibility unanticipated situations.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One way I improve the work that I do is to have a collaborative approach to public safety. In my current and previous positions, I have formed safety advisory committees that are available to share ideas. These committees review policies, industry best practices, and procedures within the relevant environments. I expand my stake-holder group to include faculty, staff, students and community members, who are there to ensure that we are provided a high level of service in a transparent way. They are also there to provide feedback if things are not going the way they feel they should be handled. That is one thing that I have embraced over my twenty-five-year career.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure or challenge I’ve experienced was the proverbial communication breakdown from time to time as the department(s) experienced significant organizational culture change. In order to overcome that, we created additional communications mechanisms and sought feedback along the way. That approach, along with clearly defined expectations, allowed us to move forward, although some employees might provide a different perspective. I’ve continued to learn that resetting those policies and internal expectations are critical in maintaining open communication within the environment.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

One idea for a business would be to start a global security consulting firm for international and national institutions of higher learning.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best hundred dollars that I have recently spent was on the cost of a professional training conference that I attended. It is wonderful to be around law enforcement colleagues and academics to gain additional knowledge.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Google has all sorts of search tools. I use it on a daily basis.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Developing the Leader Within You by John C. Maxwell

What is your favorite quote?

“Be the change you want to see in the world” by Gandhi

Key Learnings:

● Be flexible enough to readjust your expectations.
● Make sure to have clearly defined goals and desired outcome.
● Evaluate where everyone is to teach them in a positive way rather than pushing them along in an urgent way.