How do leaders recognize when an institution's vision and mission need to be revised, or should they ever be revised?
First let's talk about when they can be revised. Social institutions generally don't change if they don't have to, even in the most responsive and innovative environments. The business sector tends to change more readily because of competition. Likewise, private universities are far more responsive to change than public ones. There are very few examples of public universities going out of business. There are, however, examples of private institutions that have either disappeared or have faced serious difficulties as a result of not being responsive to change.
The timing for change is often defined by external conditions. It is the leader's job to figure out a way to make change happen. Sometimes it involves taking a new path and having a new vision. Sometimes it requires refinement, and sometimes it requires going back to the basics of what the institution is about. When I arrived at SU, I was careful about understanding what our institutional values were. I spent a lot of time listening to people. From that I identified five values (quality, caring, innovation, diversity, service) that people could relate to and say, "Yes, that's us."
Then came the question of articulating SU's vision of being a leading student-centered research university. Not everyone agreed with that vision. But SU has both a history of, and strong pockets of, very student-centered programs. But the vision had to be stated forcefully. While continuing our emphasis on research, we needed to be more responsive to our students, to their learning environment, and to their out-of-class environment.
What do you believe is the single most important personality trait for leaders?
There is no single characteristic. There are at least three, maybe four, important characteristics. You must have physical stamina to hold up under the rigors of a busy schedule. You must have a level of intelligence commensurate to the challenge, a degree of emotional security to deal with the challenges, and, finally, you need leadership skills.
Of those characteristics, emotional security is perhaps most important. If you don't have emotional security, you create problems for yourself and others.
What are the three things that you like best about your job as Chancellor?
I think I make a difference. I enjoy the complexity of this kind of institution, where there are many stresses and strains, and conflicting and supporting needs. I enjoy figuring out ways to make it all work. Finally, I think I probably do this better than I would do most other things.
What is the single most difficult decision you have had to make at Syracuse University?
Let's distinguish between decisions and actions. The single most difficult action is always letting people go and doing it in a way that preserves their sense of dignity and respect, while acknowledging that the University comes first. It's not easy.
The most difficult decision had to be restructuringnot whether we should or should not, that was determined by external conditions. But rather, exactly what to do. It was a complex decision with both successes and failures.
There is a paradox here. Some decisions are easy to make and are difficult to carry outfor example, a personnel change. Some decisions are easy to carry out, but are difficult to make.
In the book, you describe the multiple roles leaders play and the different constituencies they face daily. How do you present a unified message?
You try to be yourself, be genuine, and accept the fact that you are going to turn a few people off. You should not change for the constituents you are working with, because pretty soon you don't remember who you are.
If John Robert Greene writes another book about SU, The Continuing Legacy: The Shaw Years, what would you like him to say about your legacy?
First of all, he looks to be my age. My grandfather was a manager of a factory until he was 82; my father just died at age 98; so Greene may be too old to write my history. But let's say that he is able to hang on long enough. I would like him to be able to say that I made a difference, and that Syracuse University is better because I was here.
Back to page 1
E-mail the magazine editor
E-mail the web guy
SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE
820 Comstock Ave., Rm. 308
Syracuse, NY 13244-5040