Leadership Tips for College Presidents

Leaders in general, and college leaders in particular, more often disappoint than they impress. My view is informed by the difference between conventional leadership and Lean leadership. The beliefs, behaviors, and competencies of the two types of leaders are in stark contrast with one another – the former being far less capable than the latter.

The article “Leadership Tips for College Presidents and CEOs” (WSJ, 29 April 2014), was written by two college presidents, Barry Glassner (Lewis & Clark College) and Morton Schapiro (Northwestern University). It illustrates what I mean by conventional leadership and it exposes great weakness in leadership thought and practice. The article is, in a word, underwhelming, and falls short compared to Lean leadership. It is nothing more than a recitation of the rudimentary skills that anyone in a leadership position should possess and reflects a narrow view of leadership. The 12 tips are:

1.   Think first, talk later
2.   Talk less, listen more
3.   Show up
4.   Engage veteran employees
5.   Don’t ignore the staff
6.   Customers want to be consulted
7.   Answer nearly all messages
8.   Use the board of trustees or directors
9.   Community relations matter
10. Don’t take things personally
11. Don’t believe the hype
12. Don’t neglect your health

I expect much more than that from top leaders. So should other faculty, as well as students, staff, parents, and payers. Notice there is nothing there related to improving the institution’s academic (teaching) and administrative work processes, making life better for all stakeholders, reducing costs, improving quality, etc. Given how much money public and private college and university presidents make (Glassner, $379,000; Schapiro, $910,000), and the fact that they desire to be in such positions of leadership, I also expect them to possess advanced leadership skills. To do that, they must work harder, much like the difference between an amateur musician and a professional musician.

In addition to the above perfunctory leadership skills, college presidents must also do the following 12 things characteristic of advanced leadership:

13. Establish a “no-blame policy”
14. Encourage people to try new things and make it OK to fail
15. Continuously improve their teaching
16. Lead efforts to improve teaching
17. Know who teaches well and who needs to improve
18. Recognize problems
19. Correct problems using structured problem-solving processes (PDCA, A3, A4, etc.)
20. Respond to student feedback
21. Lead kaizens for improving academic and administrative processes
22. Reduce costs and queue time through process improvement
23. Provide resources for improvement
24. Improve your leadership proccesses

This is a broader view of leadership that includes capabilities that are built over time through daily practice. If practice is limited to the first 12, then we have someone who is only minimally qualified to lead an institution of higher education.

See We Can Do It! for a complete description of what college and university leaders should know and do. It’s more than 12 tips and a lot more substantive.

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