I just met a president.

Not the nation’s, candidates or otherwise.

Let’s call him Dr. Al.

He is charming, smart, sharp, and experienced. He is to savvy what Elvis was to cool.

I have no idea if I’ll ever work with him, but I found myself more than a little nostalgic listening to him talk in old school, reverent ways about his college. He spoke with an innate genuine humanity to the place and its we’re-all-about-our-people first (not JUST students) and a better-the-world mission.

It was like the college was a family member to him, and he is enabling said relative to do good-to-great for others 24/7.

I don’t get that vibe from every leader.

To be fair, I’m lucky in that nearly every college/university president I’ve worked with has an “it” factor that sets her/him apart from non-presidents. A drive, an insight. A way. Sure, some of them end up being a bit-to-all-out wacky in less than healthy ways, but they all have “it.”

Take Dr. Al. He commanded a room by being himself. From custodian to provost, respect oozed. He was more than a little bit iconic (his tenure is relatively long) but rather than leverage that, he seemed as human as anyone I’ve seen in leadership.

To this end—iconic doesn’t always work.

I once had a client with a president who had a long, LONG tenure, one of the longest at the time in the nation. Ran the place with an outdated lens to the world, held grudges, dismissed innovation, lacked curiosity, and dismissed those with better ideas—too threatening.

You can imagine what our research findings showed and what didn’t get done.

My point?

You can’t always know what you’re going to get in a leader, despite interviews and references and all the vetting you’d like. Someone in Year One can be a whole other beast in Year Two or later.

But try to hire the person, not the professional. A great person can refine the professional. The other way—not so much.

Dr. Al is a genuine spirit. What you see is what you get. Your fun uncle. Your trusted confidant. From what everyone told me, he was that way from Day One, just far better at it now with age and experience. But they hired him for who he was as a human being at a time the college needed that. And that is who he still is today.

I might not have seen the full measure of the man, but I saw the seeming result of that measure, and it’s spectacular. I don’t think the campus community (and surrounding world) have it wrong. Even Dr. Al—especially Dr. Al—could not dupe that many people.

Here’s to hoping for more Dr. Als in our lives. Please.

If you have any of your own Dr. Al stories you’d like to share email me at chuck.reed@stamats.com

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