Academic Leadership: The Online Journal


Over the years, I have explored leadership challenges faced by department chairpersons and school deans. In this essay I reflect on some findings, noting that they also apply to other educational leaders such as faculty senate members and student affairs officers. Most mid-level leaders struggle with the tradition of defining leadership in terms of individualistic values and mythologies of seeing the leader in terms of the individualistic, heroic cowboy of the Western film and novel. Then I examine the position of institutional president. Here too some leaders aim to be heroic figures, like the fabled cowboy. Almost inevitably, their behaviors foster campus suspicion, fragmentation, and isolation. Other presidents are closer to the relational individualism for which I argue. They model the importance of conversation by practicing hospitality and honoring covenant. One obvious difference between midlevel leaders and presidents is the larger platform the latter possess to set the philosophical, moral, and spiritual tone of the institution. If the tone is hospitable, midlevel leaders find their tasks easier and more fulfilling. If executive leadership is not hospitable, however, chairpersons and deans report their positions to be both more difficult and more important.