Lead with Heart
The most common road to the college or university presidency continues to be through academic affairs. But increasing numbers of presidents are coming from nontraditional educational ranks, like student affairs or advancement.
A leader charting a pathway to the presidency should remember, though, that not all institutions are built alike. Presidents from nontraditional backgrounds must be able to find opportunities that fit their skills and character. Here, college presidents share a few ways to do that.
Lead with HEART.
Leadership has to be heart-centered, says James T. Harris, president of the University of San Diego and past chair of the CASE Board of Trustees.
“You need to be the living embodiment of the mission of the institution—demonstrating that the values of the president are aligned with the values of the university," he says. "It’s about authenticity, about operating from the heart.” This chart below outlines what Harris calls the five elements of HEART.
The 5 Elements of HEART
- Empowering others
- Relationship focus
Jake B. Schrum, president of Emory & Henry College in Emory, Virginia, echoes that need for authenticity.
“You have to approach the role with humility, with a sense of humor and an understanding that it’s all about the transformation that occurs in the hearts and minds of students when they have an opportunity to experience this ‘whole ‘person’ education," he says.
Know the big picture.
Understanding the marketplace—remaining tuned to public discourse—continues to play an essential role, stresses Timothy C. Caboni, president of Western Kentucky University.
“I can’t imagine how a president can be successful without an understanding of how enrollment management works, for public and private institutions alike," he says. "You have to be a student of higher education, of the sector itself and your institution’s place in the landscape.”
Serve rather than manage.
Regardless of where a leader started his or her education career (be it advancement or academia), great college and university presidents stay focused on students and community.
"I bring a serving mindset, rather than leading or managing," says Schrum. "I think of myself as the chief education officer, with a perspective that is very aware of what we are delivering in terms of education."
No longer can the college or university president be simply a learned extension of the academic enterprise itself; today’s president has to be chief fundraiser, spokesperson, alumni cajoler, and enrollment advocate. Today’s president, before everything else, is an advancement officer.
About the author(s)
Rob Moore is CEO emeritus of Lipman Hearne and the author of The Real U: Building Brands that Resonate with Students, Faculty, Staff, and Donors (CASE 2010). He also serves as the vice president of marketing and communications at CASE.