Sunday, May 22, 2016

New President Interview -- Part 34 Management and Leadership

Q:  All the national presidential candidates have opinions concerning this country’s future.  They all want to use power and show how they can use that power to be leaders.  How do the concepts of leadership, management, power, and trendsetting fit into the role of a college president?

A: No one wants to feel powerless.  The pursuit of an education is to empower the student to
accomplish goals.  Learning to master one’s environment and become a productive member of society are among the prime goals of a student’s education. Mastering one’s environment may mean learning basic skills to get around.  For a graduate it means learning to be a professional and mastering the academic and personal skills to get the job done.  Having power means you are able to control part of your existence. It means having hope that your efforts will help change your lot, your immediate vicinity and hopefully make this a better world. The Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam (meaning repairing or improving the world[1]) is much more powerful than the English translation (fix the world) or even the English phrase, “making a better world.” Power and being in control help in the creating a psyche that can better cope with life’s challenges.

However, improper use of power in ways that become dictatorial or outside the interests of the group is a way to railroad success. Leadership and management are two skills needed in presidents and everyone under them. Management is the process of making sure processes run on time and within budget.  Leadership is the setting of goals and visions, and creating the processes so that management can work.  Leaders can be weak, traditional or trendsetters.  By giving people power over their organizational life, leaders can better accomplish the organizational goals.

A college is not a business because it does not have stockholders or owners.  While a college president may answer to a board or government entity, a president of a company answers to the shareholders and the “almighty” dollar. Colleges have to answer to accreditation bodies; businesses and elected officials do not.  Too often public institutions don’t spend money because they are afraid.  Sometimes they have accounting practices that were initially created to prevent stealing or misuse, but today impede progress. The owner or president of a private company can “bet the bank,” but college presidents are much more restricted in their ability to be nimble and move money from one accounting line to another.[2]

Q:  In an ideal college setting how does one balance tradition and trendsetting?

A: Both are important. Tradition is a way of grounding people in a particular pattern.  This creates a comfort zone. Trendsetting is a way to realize a full potential and to use one’s brain power and talent to accomplish a better journey or goal. Tradition may have a strong vote, but never a veto.  Don’t refuse to make a change just because it is not the way you did it last year.  Positive growth is dependent on a learning process and a willingness to experiment and take chances. Positive growth and individual contributions to group success are much more important than adherence to tradition. [3]

As one matures in the understanding of the world, one is able to consider new scientific and social knowledge and move away from ideology and complacency. One should act according to the best knowledge of the world to make the self, organization and world a better place.  Good leaders take advantage of tradition and new knowledge to set trends.  Plain managers are happy just moving people and paper in the same old ways.  “Same old” has no place in a nimble dynamic organization.  Leaders who shine resist critics or sensationalist forces.  They remain focused on values, goals and fighting for causes that lead to the betterment of the college.

Perhaps one of the hardest things for me is to be thick-skinned and able to withstand unfair or ignorant criticism.  To survive those critics, you need strong personal, collegial, and institutional support.  I know this is hard for me because I want people to appreciate and like me.  History ultimately judges you on your accomplishments and performance, not on how well you weathered a media cycle.

Q:  How do you balance idealism and pragmatism?

A: It is not easy.  Part of me is an idealistic liberal dreamer and part is a rational pragmatist wanting to do everything based on solid research.  Wisdom is the ability to understand how to read “gut” or existential feelings and balance the feelings with understanding the data and the science.  One should not be dogmatic but promote a delicate balance of promoting the ideals and maintaining credibility against the rational scientific aspects of the world.  Sometimes what is rational is not the best solution for the people and places involved.  Compromise is not always getting the others to agree with you, but working toward a solution that both agree is right.

Q:  Let’s move on to discussing leadership skills needed for academic departments in particular libraries.  In 2015 Colleen S. Harris-Keith wrote a doctoral thesis on developing the skills for being a library director.[4]

A: This article was written based on self-reporting surveys sent to “leaders” of academic libraries. Leadership in a real institution was opposed to my imagination is a delicate balance of idealism, budget difficulties, rapid growth of information sources and contents, and pragmatism.  Leadership also needs to show value to the stakeholders through assessment and accountability.   Most of the respondents said that library schools do not prepare people to be administrators.  This is not a surprise or unexpected.  Schools are academic institutions that do not even claim to impart the wisdom one gains from working in the field.  The article does not even come close to describing the skills needed to be a leader or even examine the behavior traits that are found in good leaders.  It is just a survey and analysis with a literature review.  I am curious as why Kathy Rosa[5] writing in American Libraries thought this dissertation was notable. It was not even close to what I would expect in a thesis for a doctorate.

Q:  How does leadership skill develop?

A: Leadership roles are established by the organization.  The leader is the one who has the most influence on establishing the foundations for decision making and organizational values.  For example the board gives the president the authority for leadership.  The president passes some of the authority and responsibility to the faculty and staff.  In the class the teachers may create groups that require leadership.  The president creates the foundations for creating organizational effectiveness. That includes decision making, problem solving, procedural rules, and conflict resolution.  The values may be explicite as in written rules or implicit as in behaviors, attitudes, decisions, and personal interactions.  The basic psyche of human behaviors may remain the same, but it is the leader’s job to continously change and adapt to new situations.

The best leaders are able to train those who work with him/her to make decisions in his absence that are consistent with the goals and values of the organization. The people in leadership must be able to delegate and trust those working for the organization.  Because of the importance of leadership, the leader must understand the self and how the self fits the organization.  That is why the selection of the leader is important to the direction of the organization. The leader must be able to articulate both the self-goals and those of the organization.  The study I referred to above does not factor in the understanding of the self or the role of the self in the organization.  The leader demonstrates values in both consistency of word and action.[6]  A measure of success is when this consistency leads to positive results.  When the decisions lead to accomplishment of positive goals, the leader is successful.  

Success in academia and business is not always the same.  Some people think if the value of the stock in the market goes up, the business is succeeding.  The outside observers may see branches closing and people losing jobs.  This is not success for the community.  In academia the financial bottom line is not the most important measure of success.  How we improve the students, graduates and community is our success story.  However, this improvement is not quickly or easily measured.  The number of graduates is not as important as how these graduates accomplish their goals and integrate into the community.

The skills of leadership develop in people when they are given the tools for success.  The leaders need to understand the human, organization, technical and logistical strengths and limitations of the organization. Proper and clear communications are very important is making sure the values are understood and shared.  A leader tries to develop the institutional values with a clear vision toward continuous improvement, productivity, and reward. Sometimes the rewards are articulated in words and actions and sometimes the accomplishment of the goal is its own reward.

Q:  How does a college president have consistent values and nurture innovation and growth?

A: The basic premises of education have not changed over time.  The goal of all education is create a citizen who can be a productive member of society.  Initially that means teaching to tools for further education.  The youngest children need to learn to read, write, understand the manipulation of numbers and shapes, understand the basic science of how the world works, master the spiritual basis of society[7], and learn the social skills to get along in many kinds of groups.  Each year the student learns new skills based on previous knowledge.  By the time a student graduates from college, the student is ready to search for a job and assume a place in the community.  The road to the integration into the community is constantly changing.  We have new tools that didn’t even exist last year.  They are just tools, not basic value or goal changers.  The challenge of the president is to keep one foot firmly based on core values and the other foot ready to make to step toward new goals that serve the students and the community.  Also keep in mind that we are all members of multiple communities.  Communities are defined by geography, common interests, business, professions, trades, ethnicity, and family.  Education helps students understand how to cope when the ideas of one community conflict with another.[8]

Q:  Thank you very much.  You have given us much to digest concerning making a better world.

Part thirty-four of the imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After more than 30 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Everything is true, but some details have not yet happened. Any connection to a real college or president is strictly coincidental.

[1] Tikkun Olam also has the connection to performing acts of social justices and giving time and money to tzedakah (charity).  For more information, see:

[2] My account friend who works for a movie production company told me that his job is to make sure there is enough money in the right budget line.  If the producer is spending too much on one task the accountant has to warn him that it is going over budget and another task must be changed to stay within the overall budget.  This kind of budget transfer is difficult within a public institution

[3] An important caveat. When I refer to trendsetting or going against tradition, this is no way to encourage going against the law, ordinances, regulations, or professional ethical practices. The use of the word “tradition” here is not the same as “tradition” in a religious or legal context.  “Traditions” that have no basis in law or reason are prime candidates for changing.

[4] The thesis was published as an article, “The Relationship Between Academic Library Department Experience and Perceptions of Leadership Skill Development Relevant to Academic Library Directorship,” in The Journal of Academic Librarianship · 41:3, April 2015. Pages 246- 263.  Retrieved from:

[5] Rosa, Kathy.  “Notable Dissertations.”  American Libraries, 47:5 May 2016. Pages 44-49.

[6] Sorry to diverge from my main thesis, but politics is a big exception to my ideas of leadership. We elect “leaders” to office who don’t always set good examples. Their behavior does not set an example consistent with the values of the office or community.   For example, look how many former Illinois governors were convicted of crimes. Some politicians do not seem to have the greater good in mind when they create legislation or make administrative decisions.  Sometimes laws are passed without the means to enforce them or without allocation of funds for implementation.

[7] Spiritual values are both secular and religious.  Religious education attempts to teach students to be loyal members of the group.  Secular schools teach the values such as “truth, justice and the American way.”

[8] Some of the ideas presented here were learned from reading:   Organizational Culture and Leadership / by Edgar H. Schein. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010 and the doctoral thesis, Reflecting on the Core Values and Defining Moments of Public Library Directors /  by Sharon P. Morris. Simmons College 2015.  Retrieved from :   ProQuest Number: 3664069.

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