7 college presidents on “the worst leadership advice I ever received”

Upon reflection, bad advice can be pretty helpful

eCampus News asked a handful of college presidents: What is the worst leadership advice you’ve ever received? Here’s what they had to say.

“If anything, that great leaders are ‘born, not made’—as if one can’t learn or improve leadership skills.”
—Michael V. Drake, MD, president, The Ohio State University

“Work harder.”
—Michael J. Smith, president, Berkeley College, New York and New Jersey

“I wouldn’t consider it bad advice, but more lessons learned. I’ve been fortunate to have strong mentors who have guided me by sharing the tough lessons they’ve learned. One mentor shared with me a story about when he wasn’t true to himself. He tried to shape his work around the values and priorities of those who served before him. It wasn’t successful. True success came when he realized he needed to make a change, and be himself.”
—Richard Rhodes, president and chief executive officer, Austin Community College, Texas

“I can’t say I’ve ever received bad advice about leadership. I am fortunate to work with some of the most qualified and exceptional leaders in education, business, and government. They all have valuable advice that can be applied to different areas. Even if it is not applicable to what I do, I gain knowledge and experience.”
—J. David Armstrong, Jr., president, Broward College

“I was told that to be perceived as a strong leader I had to be feared by those who reported to me. If they feared me, they would always do what I wanted. If they did not fear me, it was because I was perceived as weak.”
—Elsa Núñez, president, Eastern Connecticut State University

“The worst advice (or observation) I’ve seen in a leader is not being visible on campus or in the community. As a college president, you are the ‘living logo’ and it’s important to have that presence on campus with faculty, staff, and students and, of course, representing the college in the community. The worst leaders I’ve observed were ones who were attached to their office and only appeared for special events or meetings. A president can learn a great deal from the old leadership approach of MBWA (Management by Walking Around).”
—John J. Rainone, president, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, Virginia

“That data is useful. Data is very useful, critical even, in management, but that is not leadership.”
—Paul J. LeBlanc, president, Southern New Hampshire University

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