Archive for November, 2012

Try as I might, university humor is often in short supply.  When I do find attempts at university humor, it is typically “Dibertesque” in nature – poking fun at the ineptness of higher education.   Occasionally, I do find academics who are able to provide insight into the true inner workings of higher education administration.   One such humorous statement comes from Clark Kerr, the first chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley and twelfth president of the University of California.

After the election in fall 1966 which brought Ronald Reagan to California’s governorship, membership on the Board of Regents shifted to the right, and on January 20, 1967, Kerr was abruptly dismissed.   At the time he stated, ”I left the presidency just as I had entered it — fired with enthusiasm.” 

Another witty observation from Kerr came as he reflected on the appropriate way to describe “the university”.   Kerr referred to Robert Hutchins (University of Chicago) and then provided a California perspective. “Hutchins once described the modern university as a series of separate schools and departments held together by a central heating system.  In an area where heating is less important and the automobile more (California), I have sometimes thought of it as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.”  (Source: Kerr, Clark, The Uses of the University, 5th edition. 1963; Harvard University Press, 2001)

Bravo, Dr. Kerr!


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These past three months I have heard our university president engage with faculty, student and staff on several occasions.   Following is a summary of a few “leadership lessons” for our president:

  • be a good listener – be sure to learn the culture of the institution
  • make informed decisions
  • be respectful – express ‘thank you’
  • communication is extremely important – communicate in multiple ways
  • bring out the best in others
  • the tone of the organization starts at the top – be positive and optimistic all of the time
  • integrity is key
  • the university’s vision must be built together
  • encourage people to take thoughtful risk – ‘Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good”
  • celebrate success
  • empower good role models
  • process matters – particularly in higher education

Some strategies for understanding the culture of an organization

  • build a ‘listening tour’ asking questions about how to build on our strengths
  • ask for briefing books – gives you a who’s who and a history
  • engage people outside the university to give the discussion a different perspective

Importance of ‘Difficult Conversations’

  • give others the time to talk
  • get their perspective
  • there is a difference between performance and the person
  • be clear about expectations (facts)
  • the time/place of the meeting is important

Suggestions for young people:

  1. exceed the expectations of your boss
  2. ask your boss – “how can I help?”

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In Good to Great Jim Collins describes the Level 5 leader as someone who embodies a “paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will”.   Following are the defining characteristics of  the Level 5 leader:

  • the Level 5 leader is incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.
  • the Level 5 leader sets up their successor for success not failure
  • the Level 5 leader demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long term results, not matter how difficult
  • the Level 5 leader looks in the mirror to apportion responsibility for poor results

Jim Collins found that 10 out of 11 of his Level 5 leaders came from within the company.   Collins also discovered a disturbing trend on the part of board of directors to select “dazzling, celebrity leaders and to de-select potential Level 5 leaders”.

Does our college have a Level 5 leader in its midst?

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Today we met with the firm that will be leading our search for a new dean for our business school.    Our faculty described the qualities we are looking for in a dean.  Here are some of my notes:

  1.  strong development skills
  2. a more open decision-making process
  3. ability to reach a vision and communicate this to constituents
  4. have an established research record
  5. have the ability to obtain resources on campus
  6. strong interpersonal skills
  7. ability to inspire students
  8. ability to inspire faculty
  9. involve faculty in the planning process
  10. involve local business community

The executive from the search firm described how there is a lack of talent in higher education administration today.   He would like to see more candidates that genuinely enjoy working with external constituents.    What are your thoughts?

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