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It all starts at the top: divergent leadership styles and their impact upon a university.

Everyday across thousands of campuses loyal, hard working, and dedicated educators show up to work hoping to make a real difference in the lives of the students they serve. Little do they know that their dedication and hard work are not enough to ensure success for these students.

Universities throughout the United States are faced with diminishing budgets and growing demands on scarce resources. More has to be done with less. In addition, individual employees need to be motivated to work even harder.

The responsibility of effectively utilizing these resources and motivating these individuals lies with the head of the campus. The "boss" is known by many different names. This individual may possess the title of President, Provost, Vice President, or even Director. This person may govern an entire university or just one campus. The name is inconsequential.

What is important is this individual's ability to maintain the academic and financial lifeblood of the institution. An exceptional leader is not only an expert in the areas of budget and finance, but also one who can motivate and rally the troops when the wolf is at the door.

These Chief Executive Officers vary greatly in regards to their management style. This style though is pivotal in setting the tone for the school's culture.

Although leadership styles may vary all of these administrators share one common trait. Even though they report to Boards of Trustees or superiors up the line they are in reality the most powerful individual on their respective campuses. How they wield this power determines the fate of those under their authority. This power can be effectively utilized to the benefit of the school and its people or greatly abused for personal gain and power.

Styles of Leadership

Shared Governance: The Democratic Model Some leaders work on a shared governance belief. They include others in the ultimate decision making process. They encourage feedback, innovation, and creativity.

This style of management offers many benefits. For example, individuals working under this type of cooperative management style are often enthusiastic and willingly take on additional new assignments and responsibilities. They do so because they believe in the shared vision that they helped create. They have a sense of ownership and pride as a result.

Working in such an environment fosters both professional and personal growth. It works to build confidence is people's abilities to do their job. As Sam Walton points out "outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel, ff people believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can accomplish" (2010, p. 1). This is essential to growth within any university.

This style of leadership also allows for new grass root ideas to filter to the top and encourages change for the betterment of a university.

On the negative side, what the leaders of such institutions sacrifice is ultimate power. Many believe it is worth the cost.

Hands Off." The Laissez Faire Model

The Laissez Faire leadership style was first identified in a major study conducted by Lewin, Lippitt, and White in 1938. Leaders who utilize this style make the choice to allow subordinates to handle the day to day operations of an institution. These leaders focus their attention on only the big picture.

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to this leadership style.

On the positive side this strategy permits supervisors to run their areas of responsibility with little interference. Being the experts within these areas they are free to make decisions that affect programs as well as individuals within their realm of influence.

On the negative side, when the administrators deal only with predominately high level priority issues they often lose touch with those they govern. They sacrifice the day to day interactions and networking paradigms that make the school viable. As such they cannot provide effective feedback to faculty and staff in order to improve their job performances.

A second disadvantage is the possibility that with too much power some supervisors will use it to benefit their own personal agendas. This works to the detriment of a university since these supervisors do not see or understand the bigger picture and as such are only concerned with their own departmental needs.

The Micro-Manager: The Autocratic Model

Micro-managers are administrators who believe it is essential to be involved with every aspect of the daily running of an educational institution. There is no task too small for them to oversee. They may delegate, however, they are constantly double checking to make sure their orders are being carried out, and carried out the way they dictate.

These individual are often self proclaimed experts in every aspect of running a university. Their ideas and their experiences are the only viable ones and those under them soon come to realize that in order to accomplish even the simplest of initiatives they must first have the leader's support. As a result, this autocratic style of leadership discourages creativity and innovation.

Micro-managers do so for a variety of reasons. Some have trust issues. As such they believe they must control everything in order to guarantee success. Others fear personal failure and so transfer the risk of this to others and then take ownership of that person's work. Still others confuse authority with ability and believe in their own superiority.

Whatever the cause the reality is that this style of leadership is counter intuitive. In fact, "it is the opposite of leadership" (Changing Minds, 2010, p. 1).

Working under the authority of a micromanager is grueling and those under such a leader are often tired and frustrated at their inability to accomplish anything.

The Rule Follower: The Bureaucratic Model

Anyone who has spent any real time within a university has met, and probably worked with or under, those individuals who choose to lead strictly by following the rules. These are the "by the book" people. They are quite versed on both policies and procedures as formally established by higher authority. They rarely deviate from the prescribed norm and are reluctant to make any exception that would take their department outside the realm of normal day to day operations.

These are the type of leaders who do not believe in any form of risk taking. To them taking risks opens up the real possibility of failure. Failure in turn could result in problems for their department and more importantly for their own careers. These types of leaders understand that following the rules cannot get them into any trouble at all. They are the "no, we cannot do that" people on campus. Sadly, these leaders become masters in "... the art of making the possible the impossible" (Javier Pascual Salcedo, p. 1).

While it is true that it is important for individuals to follow well established and time proven policies and procedures to ensure the smooth operation of a university, it is also true that adhering too closely to "the letter of the law" regarding these rules results in inertia. Working under the authority of such individuals stymies innovation, creativity, and both personal and institutional growth. Polices change slowly and as such it is critical for individuals to think "outside the box" in order to meet ever changing times. Doing so under an individual with this leadership style is often difficult or even impossible at times.

The Tyrant: The Fear Model

Tyranny in this world is not dead or exclusively the domain of third world dictators. It lives on many campuses throughout the country. Leaders who possess ultimate power are sometimes tempted to use this power for their own personal gain.

Individuals who utilize this strategy often rule though fear. The belief is that if everyone is afraid, whether it is of losing one's position, or of retaliation, or even making a bad decision, they can be more easily controlled.

This style of leadership creates a culture where supervisors, staff, and faculty alike second guess every decision they wish to make. No one wants to make a mistake, so as a result little gets done independently of the leader.

This style of leadership also creates a "the emperor has no clothes" mentality. Few are willing to openly challenge any decision made by the leader and those who do are often fired, thus reinforcing the belief on the part of others that it is much better to simply remain silent, even when they know that a bad decision has been made.

Often this type of leader will place people into positions of authority based more upon loyalty than on their expertise, experience, or even abilities. The results can be devastating to a university.

Interestingly enough this style of management is just ineffective by any standard. This is clearly confirmed by the White Stag Leadership Development group that provides cutting edge training programs for today's leaders when it states that "...authoritarian styles of leadership are less and less responsive to the complex challenges facing society today (Sharing Leadership, p. 1).

As David Antonioni states "The best and most mature leadership is about selfless service, not about gaining power and control over people" (2010). These leaders do not understand this concept.

Leaders who utilize this style of governance in essence prey upon their employees. They are academic bullies. They accept all the accolades when things go well and publicly blame others when they fail. It is quite obvious that under such circumstances little creativity will exist or be encouraged. As a result the school does not grow until these types of leaders eventually move on to other educational institution where they can again trumpet their own agendas for personal gain.

The Charismatic Leader: The Inspirational Model

At the other end of the spectrum from the tyrant stands the charismatic leader. Whether it be John E Kennedy inspiring a nation, Martin Luther King Jr. leading a social movement that revolutionized society, or the President of a small university somewhere in the Midwest, certain individuals have the innate ability to motivate people beyond what they believe they can accomplish.

These types of leaders are quite rare. They understand how to utilize the system for the benefit of their goals and the needs of the institutions they lead. They have mastered the bureaucratic nuisances and subtleties that allow them to effectively achieve these goals.

More importantly, they understand people. They know how to "work a room."

They also understand the value of inspiring others. "They pay attention to the person they are talking to at the moment, making that person feel like they are, for that time, the most important person in the world" (Communication skills 4 confidence, p. 1).

These leaders build strong loyal followings and are therefore able to ask more of others who willingly go above and beyond what is expected of them. People just genuinely enjoy working for such an individual and are willing to work harder for them.

Some charismatic leaders are skilled educators who have worked their way up the ranks and have learned a great deal along the way. They truly understand the educational issues that can plague a university and its people. Their knowledge, experience, and ability to persuade others are valuatble and powerful tools in making changes and accomplishing goals.

Others do not posses this type of experience, but are still able to motivate others who do posses the needed expertise. They too can be very effective leaders as a result.

The bottom line is that these types of leaders are able to accomplish a great deal as long as they are not tempted to push their own personal agendas to enhance their own careers.


As can be seen, varying leadership styles can create different campus cultures and consequently achieve different levels of success or failure.

In the end, it is quite clear that the individual at the top who holds the power and makes the final decisions determines the success or failure of the institution and those that work for it.

When all is said and done, it comes down to the reality that leaders who respect and value those who work under them help create a nurturing environment and a culture for success while bad bosses who make bad decisions wreak havoc.


Antonioni. D. "Quotes on Leadership." Front Range Leadership, Retrieved August 4, 2010, from tes_on_leadership.html

Changing Minds. "Micromanagement.'" Retrieved August 4, 2010, from http://changingminds .org/disciplines/leadership/articles/micromana gement.htm

Communication-skills-4confidence "Leadership Skills Styles : 2 BC to 2009." Retrieved August 4, 2010. from

Lewin, K, Lippitt. R., and White, R. "Leadership and Group Life." Retrieved August 4, 2010, from AD/lippit%26whitw.html

Salcedo. J. "'Bureaucracy Quotes." Retrieved August 4. 2010, from

Walton, S. "'Famous Leadership Quotes." Retrieved August 4, 2010, from

White Stag Leadership Development. "Sharing Leadership." Retrieved August 3, 2010, from rship.htm


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Author:Simplicio, Joseph
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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