President's Perspective on ...

Welcome to the first edition of UA eNEWS

This enewsletter was created to open another line of communication between University Administration and our staff, and it also will provide a new forum for me – one that I will use to share news or thoughts on issues affecting the University of Illinois or higher education, in general.

In this edition, I want to focus on leadership. The Board of Trustees has encouraged me to actively work on the institution’s need for succession planning, and one element is a new program that will be launched this year to help prepare some of our most promising people to advance into senior positions.

The leadership development program is still “under construction,” and we will share details once they are available. Our plan is to ask each campus to nominate its top prospects, those who are recognized as possessing strong leadership potential, who will then undergo training in areas such as managing the University and its campuses, and working with state and federal leaders.

Our campuses are home to some of the nation’s best talent and this program will nurture their skills, creating a succession network that serves the University’s interests by grooming in-house administrators who bring their institutional knowledge with them as they rise in leadership.

Long ago, I learned that leadership skills don’t come with a title or promotion. In high school, I was class president and a statewide officer in Future Farmers of America. Later, I was student body president at my community college and a student senator at Texas A&M University.

I thought I was a leader until an experience in the military showed me I only knew how to get elected. Our drill sergeant put a different trainee in command every day and when my turn came, it was my job to get fellow soldiers to belly-crawl under barbed wire. Let’s just say it didn’t take long for me to realize I had a lot to learn about leading.

Since then, I’ve been intrigued by leadership – how you get people to pull in the same direction to achieve a common goal. And time has provided some lessons.

Effective leaders must understand their organizations in a profound way – every strength, weakness, opportunity and threat. They need to function in the present, draw perspective from the past and chart a clear course for the future. They must work in the organization’s best interests, not their own. They must serve as “cheerleader in chief,” in good times and bad.

At its very core, leadership boils down to two simple but critical traits. The best leaders, in my view, are collaborative and decisive. They encourage discussion and take feedback to heart. But at the end of the day, they realize the ultimate decision rests with them. Over the years, I have found when people feel they have been heard and appreciated, they can accept decisions and follow them even if they don’t agree.

Finally, leaders also have a responsibility – sharing their experience to help guide the new generation of leaders that will follow. That mentoring function is the foundation of our new leadership development program, and I look forward to the countless benefits it will bring to our great University.


January 2014