8 college presidents on “the best leadership advice I’ve ever received”

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eCampus News asked higher-ed leaders: What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten about leadership? Here are their answers.

“The most significant thing I’ve learned about leadership is that you don’t get there alone. It’s so important to find good people who will help guide you through your career and life journey.

“This is especially crucial for young women and I often advise our students on this. As women grow in their leadership capabilities and are eligible for promotions, they need someone to turn to for support in reaching that next level. Mentors can support your career ambitions and help you reach your goals by offering useful guidance and encouraging you to succeed.

“Equally, if not more important, is a sponsor—someone who takes a more hands-on role than a mentor in promoting his or her protégé’s success. For example, a sponsor will suggest a young professional for a highly visible project, put him or her forward for ‘stretch’ assignments, and secure approval for that person’s professional training. Sponsors might alert their protégés to hidden dangers like an unspoken problem with a colleague, or they might suggest connecting with one of an organization’s hidden influencers.

“As an attorney who has worked in public policy, government, finance, and now as president of a university, I have faced my fair share of workplace challenges. But along the way, I wouldn’t have gained the confidence to achieve success without strong supporters in my corner.”
—Gloria Larson, president, Bentley University, Massachusetts

“I think the best leadership lessons have been those I’ve learned firsthand from my father, mother, and university mentors. Leadership starts with knowing your own values, and then practicing values-based decision-making.”
—Michael V. Drake, MD, president, The Ohio State University

“Probably the best advice I received was to ‘hire the best people, give them the tools to succeed, and get out of their way.’”
—John J. Rainone, president, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College , Virginia

“I believe in Donald McGannon’s quote: ‘Leadership is action, not position.’”
—Michael J. Smith, president, Berkeley College, New York and New Jersey

“There’s a lot to learn from others. The best advice I’ve received is from one of my biggest mentors, John Roueche. He taught me something simple, yet immensely important. He told me to remember to always be myself and not to try to be somebody else. You have to be yourself. If it’s not you, then it’s not natural. You have to know your values and your priorities. The second best advice I received from John is how important it is to develop good relationships with your mentors. The people you connect with as a mentor will always serve as a guiding figure in your life.”
—Richard Rhodes, president and chief executive officer, Austin Community College, Texas

“Be transparent, share your authority with your team, and include your people in making decisions. I have found that groups of people will work very hard with you when they feel empowered. That is what a leader’s chief responsibility is—to empower his or her people.”
—Elsa Núñez, president, Eastern Connecticut State University

“That leadership is about being Storyteller-in-Chief, crafting a vision and a narrative that inspires people to embrace the mission, gives them a sense of meaning, and impels them to do all they can in service to the mission. This is true of leadership at every level.”
—Paul J. LeBlanc, president, Southern New Hampshire University

“As a leader, I’m constantly seeking new ideas on how we can make things better. The people who have taught me the most in leadership are our students. Their stories of hard work and the difficulties they must sometimes overcome to improve their lives provide great motivation. Every time I speak to our students, they tell me what they need to achieve success, teach me something new, and challenge me to set new standards and goals that can help them.”
—J. David Armstrong, Jr., president, Broward College

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