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Introduction
Coleman Patterson, Ph.D.

One of my favorite college teaching experiences occurred when I was given the opportunity to venture out of the business school and head across campus to teach a course in the school’s recreation center.  I was allowed to teach a subject that I had become addicted to as a teenager and one in which I had become an authority on through many years of learning, practicing, and playing.  It was a beginning racquetball course in the physical education department.  Teaching racquetball not only allowed me to share my sport with others, but also provided me with one of my greatest “ah ha” moments in my own academic field—leadership and management.

While wrestling with the concepts of leadership and management education in a beginning leadership course, the link between racquetball education and leadership education appeared in my mind.  It occurred to me that learning organizational leadership is a lot like learning to play racquetball.  As strange as that sounds, they have more in common than one might first imagine.  In fact, on the first day of class in my Foundations of Leadership course, I routinely have my students meet in one of the university’s racquetball courts.  The students sit along one of the sidewalls toward the back of the court and partly against the back wall.

In twenty minutes, they are exposed to the philosophy of the game, the basic rules, and the fundamental strategies of the game.  Next, they figure out through demonstration the best way to hit the ball in order to win a rally as quickly as possible.  I then show them the proper swing mechanics for hitting forehand and backhand shots and then introduce them to shot selection strategy.  In those brief moments on the court at the beginning of their leadership course, students learn what took me years to figure out on my own through trial and error, wining and losing on the court, and much practical experience combined with hours and hours of analysis and thinking.

The brief lesson will not make any of the students proficient racquetball players—that takes many hours of purposeful practice using the rules, philosophy, skills, strategies of the game, and countless games to perfect.  The brief lesson, however, does provide a launching and reference point for beginning their study and participation in the sport.  They can progress in their games much faster than I did without some “education” in the ways of the game.

After the lesson, I debrief the students on the purpose of the meeting in the court and receiving a racquetball lesson.  As with racquetball instruction, students of organizational leadership can advance their abilities to effectively lead organizations by studying the rules, philosophies, and strategies of “the game.”  However, mastering the rules, philosophies, and strategies of organizational leadership will not guarantee that one will be good when the time comes to perform—that comes through purposeful practice and time spent reflecting on their performance in relation to the rules, philosophies, and strategies of the game.

As with racquetball or any other sport, some people come into the game with a set of traits that allow them to perform well or not so well at the game from the first.  For those people who are not naturally gifted at the game, more time will need to be devoted to practice and development.  It might be that those who are not naturals at the game will never reach the performance of those who are naturals, but everyone can improve their appreciation of the game, their understanding of the rules, philosophies, and strategies of the game, learn how to identify and develop the skills needed for success in the game, and how to critically evaluate performance and develop strategies for improving weaknesses and taking advantage of strengths.

Organizational leadership is, like racquetball, a skill.  A skill, however, that is grounded in a body of theories, rules, philosophies, and strategies.  By studying what others have thought and written about organizational leadership one can develop competencies more quickly than simply learning them through years of experience.  Your performance at the game ultimately requires the student of the game to become the player of the game—and playing with the intent of improving every time one plays.

 

Purpose of Book

 I tell my business and leadership students that technical skills will get them in the doors of their first employer, but leadership, management, and business skills will help them beyond their first position.  “If you’re good at what you do, you will eventually be put in charge of others and make decisions for the organization” is what they are told and “no matter what type of organization you end up working for, all organizations are dependent on effective and efficient operation and providing an output that is desired by someone outside the organization.”  All organizations are dependent on the functions of business for survival.  Organizational leaders must know and understand the functions and fields of business in order to effectively guide the organizations that have been entrusted to them.  

These ideas are the driving force behind the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree being one of the most popular graduate degrees earned in the United States.  In recent decades, professionals from all career fields have gone back to school to earn MBAs because they have promoted to positions in their organizations where they have to make business decisions—decisions that they have not been trained to make through their undergraduate education and work experience.

The ideas contained in this book are some of the rules and philosophies needed by college and university leaders.  The wonderful thing about institutions of higher education is the diversity of expertise that the faculty brings to their institutions.  There is probably no other organization where experts from such varied and diverse fields come together to work under one roof for a common purpose.  Foreign languages, communication, literature, religion, mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, art, music, theater, history, criminal justice, and business are just some of the fields commonly represented on college campuses.  These fields are all taught by people who received years of advanced educational study and training in their particular specialties—for many, more than a decade of higher education. 

   This varied and diversified nature of colleges and universities also requires that they be structured by academic disciplines and sub-disciplines.  Curriculum design and assessment of professional and academic qualifications require that academic departments be created to handle the specific and peculiar aspects of each discipline.  Departments must have chairpersons to administer the programs and to coordinate the work of the department with other departments.  Typically, one of the senior or outstanding faculty members takes on the required administrative responsibilities—and has to make business, managerial, and leadership decisions for the organization. 

All of a sudden, those people who spent a decade or more of their lives in higher education becoming experts in foreign language, communication, literature, mathematics, religion, chemistry, biology, physics, art, music, theater, history, and criminal justice are responsible for “playing a game” in which they have been ill-trained and equipped.  They are good at what they do, so they are put in charge of others who do something similar—they have become managers.

Managers in large, complex organizations tend to have managers above them—in higher education they are deans, vice presidents, and presidents.  In many instances, college and university managers advance upward through the administrative ranks without formal exposure or training to business, management, and leadership—because most rise through the ranks from academic fields outside of business, administration, and leadership.  Proficiency can occur through years of trial and error, winning and losing, and much practical experience combined with hours and hours of analysis and thinking, however a better and more efficient way can be had.

With an introduction and study into the business-related aspects of higher education, college and university leaders, from department chairs to presidents, can help advance their development and understanding of organizational leadership topics more quickly than they can solely through experience.  This book is intended to provide a business-related analysis of issues affecting higher education and the administration of academic programs and institutions.

Just as professionals from all types of job fields and occupations have gone back to school to earn degrees in business administration, this book will take readers through an analysis of issues from the various perspectives of an academic program in business—an MBA for administrators and leaders in higher education, if you will.

Economics, management, leadership and ethics, organization theory, strategy, human resource management, marketing, management information systems, finance, and accounting are the subfields of business and the typical courses that one would take in an MBA program.  The book is arranged by chapters addressing each of these fields—with particular emphasis placed on their relation and relevance to institutions of higher education.  While by no means is this volume intended to be an exhaustive review of all of the topics within these business fields, it is intended to provide an overview of some of the major ideas that are directly relevant to leadership positions in colleges and universities.

Recognizing the great diversity of our institutions of higher education, it is also unrealistic to think that this analysis will be able to prescribe a set of solutions that are applicable to all institutions and situations.  A different combination of issues, paradigms, problems, and solutions to organizational issues exist across the spectrum of institution types; public and private, teaching and research, big and small, church-related and secular.   The goal of this work is to present key ideas and principles, with suggestions about how they can be useful to colleges and universities, which are common to all types of organizations.  The specific application of these principles will require leaders and administrators to apply them appropriately to their particular institutions.

Colleges and universities are also different from most for-profit businesses in many respects; in terms of goals, professional orientation of members, type of work, involvement and motivation of organizational members, and governance.   So many of the models and theories derived for and from for-profit organizations will need to be modified, tweaked, and expanded to become truly useful for higher education institutions.  Comparing and contrasting businesses and institutions of higher education, how they are similar and how they are different, will add depth and richness to the principles described herein.  We should gain a better perspective on the unique nature of colleges and universities and how these concepts can enhance our understanding of how to make our institutions more effective.

 

Conclusion

Another thing learned from my experiences teaching the racquetball class is that anyone of any ability and playing level can benefit from instruction and education into the game.  Getting back to the fundamentals of the game, revisiting or learning rules and strategies that had not been realized before, and analyzing one’s performance in relation to the fundamental concepts and principles of the game can help novices to professionals improve their understanding, philosophy, and skills.

As you progress through the chapters and topics in this book, some will be new and some may look familiar and seem like things you have already processed and built into your philosophies of organizational leadership.  Either way you are encouraged step back and evaluate how these concepts can benefit you in your position and your institution.

 

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved