Where Has the Leadership Gone*
Q: I just heard that a friend of yours in another college has resigned his presidency. You were appointed at about the same time and you worked with him on several strategic projects. Do you know what happened?
A: I can’t tell you the details because we have not discussed them. Mr. LP grew up in the same city as the college. I met him after I moved here and we served on some community projects. He and I are alumni of the same undergraduate university, but he started several years after I graduated. His masters degree was in business and has worked in many aspects of higher education since then. He did not hold a doctorate. This was his first position as a college president. He was and still is dedicated to improving education and offering more opportunities. He has the mind of an entrepreneur and has strived to push aside the mishugas (craziness) in educational higher administrations. He tried to build a team, but had the rug pulled out from him when the board forced the vice-president to resign a few weeks earlier. The vice-president had worked for the college for more than 40 and was a great source of leadership and institutional knowledge. While the official messages said that she was retiring and moving to New York, at beginning of this term she said that her long term plans did not have retirement scheduled until the summer of 2014. I can only speculate that the board had a different idea of how to run a college than the administration.
Q: Does the college have a plan for a transition?
A: According to the public information, they have made plans for interim administrators. I can only speculate as to their effectiveness. Interim administrators are usually caretakers with little incentive for innovation or long term improvements. I hope the faculty is still able to do their jobs and the students don’t notice any disruptions in services.
Q: Why does someone with such great promise resign after such a short time?
I don’t know what went on behind closed doors. I know that the president of that college’s board came from the business world, not higher education. Business people and government leaders have a different idea of success than educators. The college has a lot of pressure to increase graduation rates without sufficient analysis on the reasoning behind the statistics. The statistics did not control for students who take a course or two for self-improvement or just to transfer to their home university. Those students never intended to graduate, yet the accounting system calls them credit students. In our college they would be “non-matriculating” students.
I can only tell you why some people resign after only 18 months in a job. There are usually pressures that are private and not discussed wit the public in order to allow the parties to save face and not air the “dirty laundry” in public.
1. They are not a good match. That means the personal vision, experience, or temperament does not fit the organization.
2. The supervisor or administration is toxic. In a job I had early in my career I found out the dean was having IRS trouble with how he filed his tax return. The IRS was took him to court. That was just one sign that the administration was toxic. Every one of the administrators had serious flaws in the way they dealt with students and the supervising authorities. They even stopped payment on a payroll check after I deposited it. I left before the school year was over.
If one sees illegal or unethical behavior, run for the exit and don’t look back.
3. Lack of vision. The job of a president is to set the stage so that the organization can move as a team. If the faculty refuse to work as team, sometimes a leadership change is required. You see this in sports. If the team is losing too many games, then the manager or coach is fired so that the team can take a new direction.This is not the right answer for education or business. When the academic team is not working, the workers have to change. That means leading and educating them toward better performance or changing the personnel.
If you can’t build a team, take drastic action to turn the efforts back on the team and institutional goals.
4. An offer one can’t refuse. Sometimes lightning strikes and president gets a call to community or national service or another college makes an offer that can’t be refused. When this happens the board should feel proud and honored that someone else recognizes their treasure.
5. Health, personal or family reasons. These are totally beyond the control of the college and we have to respect them. The college should do whatever they can to make the transition easier and perhaps leave the door open to return when the situation is resolved.
6. Lack of good judgment. If the president has breached their contract, committed a crime against the college, or did something seriously wrong against the college, the board should ask for an immediate resignation. I have heard stories of deans who made public negative remarks against their institutions and the next day they were asked for their immediate resignation. One must always act professionally and watch what you do and say in public. Presidents are the public face of the institution. They must set an example of their actions and words.Human behavior can be difficult. Much of the time the president needs to make the needs of the organizations more important than personal concerns. Sometimes there is just a line that you can not cross. The president’s job is to build consensus and create the atmosphere for team work.
Q: What is team work?
A: Team work is the action of working as one to get the job done. Teams don’t just happen. Individuals need training and guidance to work together. They need goals they can believe in. While the individual and his/her rights must be respected, the needs of the organization must take precedence. However, the needs of the organization must include ways to help the individual prosper. If the individuals are respected and rewarded, they will work harder for organizational success. When the organization succeeds, all the members succeed. Every member of the organization's team needs a role they can be proud of. The accomplishments of the individual are shared with the team and the accomplishments of the team reflect on its members.
Q: Thank you very much.
*Part fourteen of an imaginary interview with the president of the College. Note this is just for your information and edification. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.
Note: Based on comments and further investigations, this article was revised on Dec. 16, 2012.
Comments received from Don Metzer-Smith on Decemebr 15, 2012. (Included with permission.)
Thanks for sharing this incredibly pertinent blog on leadership in academia.
Of course, the conversation applies to all facets of our society, and not just the scholarly ranks. I particularly liked the part where it was acknowledged that leaders of industry and public policy making (I might add) are not always a good fit for a university. Being from Indiana, "I am holding my breath" regarding the presidency and ascension of Mitch Daniels to Purdue's leadership. We shall see, won't we?