Leadership Qualities

Leadership Qualities

I am in San Antonio, Texas, this weekend at a conference of the Council for Independent Colleges (CIC), the annual gathering of “Chief Academic Officers.” I have been before, and looked forward to coming. It is one of the best professional development opportunities for academic leaders in independent, non-profit institutions I have come across. The sessions have been not just consistently good, but consistently excellent. Yesterday I spent the day with new Provosts (I mean the whole day, 7:30 AM to 9:00 PM) and will meet with them again today. If anyone thinks that academic conferences are a perk or like a political junket, they are mistaken. Today I have already met with three providers of administrative services we need, and a consultant, went to a session on reorganization of academic divisions of universities, and am planning on at least one, maybe two sessions on legal issues peculiar to institutions of higher education. Tomorrow, along with more sessions, I will meet with the group of Deans and Provosts of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. And I have seen some old friends and am making some new ones who I will see at future conferences, and can contact for advice and commiseration in the future.

Last night we heard an address by Lee Bolman co-author with Joan Gallos of Reframing Academic Leadership (2011). He presented their way of thinking about higher education which had the merit, it seems to me, of helping us see the complexity of higher education institutions, why they can be both so creative and so unchangeable at the same time. I have the book on my shelf, recommended to me earlier by Cindy Steele, Executive Director of our Regional Centers (and Interim VP for Student Services) who worked with it in her doctoral program at Azusa Pacific. I will have to get to it soon, while I have some questions in mind.

At the end of his talk Bolman gave us “a” list of leadership qualities, commenting that everyone seems to have their own list. The lists we find overlap and are often unsystematic, being the result of experience and discussion rather than scientific investigation. In this way leadership qualities are much like the discussion of ethical “virtues,” the qualities that define a person as “good,” or “excellent” morally. His list was instructive, unique, I thought, and interesting. He said that “Great Leaders” have or are:

  • Clear sense of focus and those around notice it.
  • Passionate about the institution they serve—with a love for place, people and/or purpose.
  • Courage to make difficult or unpopular decisions and lead into an unknown future.
  • Wisdom–an appreciation of complexity and the ability to hold things together.
  • Integrity, which encourages trust in those whom they lead.

As I thought about it though, there seems to me to be another way of framing these qualities, at least this is w