Barriers to Leadership as Service
THE BOARD AS BARRIER
At least in the public sector, the most critical aid or barrier to effective institutional governance is the college governing board. In a greatly simplified sense, board members fall into three categories:
The self-centered seek appointment or election to further personal agendas or ambitions—to get rid of someone, protect a favorite program, initiate a political career, attempt to manipulate programs and policies for personal gain or, in cases in which trustees are paid, to supplement income
The constituency-centered trustee shares many of the same motives, but pursues them on behalf of a special interest group. When this action is directed toward seeking what is best for the institution as a whole, few problem arise.
Trusteeship that may initially have been created as a volunteer service by necessity, and has evolved into one by choice, must continue to gain its rewards from the opportunities to serve—otherwise service gives way to personal gain and greed.
It might be argued that members of the boards of independent colleges, many of whom are selected based upon their abilities to give or get money, can be held to a different standard of commitment and service. Not if they serve as the policymaking body for the institution. If they are purely fundraisers, put them on foundation boards. If they are shaping policy that determines the services provided to students, faculty, and community, they too should be servants first. There are, fortunately, many individuals who are capable of and willing to do both.
When there is basic disagreement about the mission, the problem becomes more serious and the solution may require that a member—president or employee—find employment elsewhere. The alternative is an employee who continues to be uncomfortable with the vision being pursued and becomes isolated or marginalized in an attempt to minimize contamination.
Recognition that the most troublesome barriers to effective leadership are often people issues highlights the critical role that employee selection plays in establishing institutional climate and success. Position announcements should indicate that the college is seeking individuals who prefer to work in an environment of shared decision making and responsibility. Applications should ask for evidence that the person can work effectively with integrated teams. Reference calls should focus as much on demonstration of caring, trust, and willingness to work collaboratively as on other areas of job performance and scholarship. And the interview must allow those involved in the selection process to judge the ability to cooperate, adjust to change, and discuss honestly and without defensiveness. No academic credential should be allowed to compensate for failure to be a caring
Every position ad should include some statement of expectation that goes beyond basic academic and experiential qualifications, and those expectations should be reinforced throughout the entire selection process. There will, of course, be those outstanding scholars who have very little interest in serving students, their colleagues, or the community with anything other than the product of their scholarly work. If the university can afford this kind of limited contribution and wants it to enhance some sense of so-called reputation, find the person an office or laboratory somewhere and let the scholar work. But be prepared to explain how the contribution adds in significant ways to pursuit of the vision.
Accreditation, articulation, and other quality control mechanisms are essential within the profession, but we must find ways to extend the model of organizational integration and collaboration to systems as well as to single institutions, allowing parts of the larger system to experiment, transform, and pursue a broader vision without being reigned in at the first indication of innovation. The higher education community must also develop methods for ensuring that those bodies that license and accredit institutions are also growing and evolving. A gradual transition away from credit hours as the common currency for higher education, moving toward competency- based education.
When the transition is complete, accrediting bodies will simply come to review how an institution’s competency standards compare with those of the rest of the profession and to evaluate how successfully students are achieving the established standards. It will be an assessment of how effectively we have assisted students in becoming informed, contributing citizens rather than an evaluation of the steps we took to get them there.
THE BARRIERS OF PERKS
the service-centered leader must forever be conscious of those accouterments of office that create distance rather than a sense of access and trust. In most cases, these symbols are not related to dress at all, but are special perks, benefits, or behaviors that, by their nature, separate the leader from those being led.
There are, of course, special benefits that must be available to the president to do the job effectively: a travel budget and transportation allowance, an entertainment account, comfortable office, and so forth. Granted, the president and other ranking officials do need to be at functions, need to be visible, and need to host guests—creating significant expense over the course of the year. The president who insisted on putting the newest college vehicle into the fleet illustrates that there are actually only two kinds of outward symbols of leadership—those that unnecessarily remind others of position and authority, and those that consciously demonstrate partnership, fairness, consideration and service. The servant-leader chooses to have an attractive, comfortable and accommodating office, but not a lavish one, and asks to be treated in other areas of campus life as he or she would like others to be treated on campus. Decorum and authority do not have to be sacrificed to approachability.
A good friend and colleague, a leader of one of the largest public institutions in the nation, found himself at odds with his campus community, board, and constituents due, in part, to his pursuit of a national office and inattention to campus needs.
THE BARRIERS WITHIN
We are indeed living in dangerous times, made more so by the intangible nature of the crises we face. They are intangible to a large degree because they are not challenges of resources, but of resourcefulness; not of capacity, but of capability. They lie largely within, and call for bold new leaders whose personal courage and willingness to persevere are equal to those dangers.
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