I am a proud graduate of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. I earned an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration with a concentration in leadership and organizational change. You can imagine my interest in the events currently unfolding here in Charlottesville over the unjust removal of UVA President Teresa Sullivan. If you need a summary of the events, please refer to this link - http://www.readthehook.com/104355/ouster-aftermath-timeline-uva-tumult
In her statement to the Board of Visitors, President Sullivan wrote, "Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university. Sustained change with buy-in does work.". Universities are unique organizations. They consist of loosely coupled systems that rely on shared governance to function. Faculty, staff, students, alumni, administrators, governing boards and business partners all have a role in moving an institution forward. It is impossible for one person at an institution to declare "do it" and it gets done. Major decisions require thoughtful discussion, consideration and collaboration. No one person or department has all authority.
Does this reality make change slower? Yes. Does it make change messy? Yes. Does it make change impossible? No. I am the first to say that universities need to discover ways to be more nimble and flexible, but that flexibility must be accomplished within the traditions of shared governance. I admit, when I was a college administrator, there were several times I wished I could make a major decision on my own without having to consult my colleagues - it would have gone so much faster. But, what about the quality of my decisions? How well were my decisions accepted? I can tell you that I was a much better decision-maker when I considered all stakeholders involved and I brought them to the table.
By all accounts, President Sullivan was focused on building relationships and bringing stakeholders to the table. At the heart of leadership is relationship. She was - and is - practicing leadership. Effective non-profit AND for-profit leaders build relationships. They don't sacrifice relationships for the sake of rapid change. They understand that for organizations to change, people have to be willing to change. You can't force change; you motivate and influence others to change. To do that, people have to trust you. That ultimately is the heart of leadership.