I simply love a good leader.
There is no one definition of such a person: my favorite deans, presidents, chancellors, and chairs have come in all temperaments, from all backgrounds, and with all sorts of goals. No gender, age, or ideology stands out.
There’s only one clear thing shared by all the good ones—they get it. Like that perfect marriage, it is magic. And you don’t always know why. In fact, the “why” is elusive.
Fit seems overused, but…there it is.
Leader 101: Higher Education Edition (from real, honest moments that I can use to compare and contrast). First, the challenged:
- Asks for new research data. Hears the data. Dismisses the data. “I can’t use that. It’s divisive,” one offered me. “This doesn’t validate what my team thinks. How can I use this?” (Hint: by using it).
- Explains her website “isn’t a communication problem.” She was light years removed from technology savvy, and since everyone working internally, as well as external analytics, agreed the website (be it hers or not) was the hub of all ills, it was a problem. Guess who didn’t get hired to “fix” it? Guess who had web issues until her demise?
- “I don’t like it.” Somewhat timeless words when a leader bristles at what focus groups, target audiences, or all staff love. This case was tough since no one who approved the direction when he was OUTSIDE the room said boo when he was IN it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, I think it goes.
Now, the hope:
- “Thank you for the candor.” Love it when the research is received well and the task of acting on it for good can commence. It happens more these days—data is moving divas and dukes alike.
- “I’m not the target audience—what do they say?” Ah, music. I’ve seen it lead to bolder finales. Thank you for that sensibility.
- “In the real world we listen to data.” Wow. Bridging non-higher education origins with the reality of the institution—and with flare.
I hope that more leaders are looking at the facts, data, economics, and logical action of our ever-changing higher education landscape in a more constructive way. They need to. They have to. And while great unit leadership can be rare, it can also be real. And beautiful.
Here’s to hope.