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Leadership and Administration


College administrators should be effective in their management and administrative duties.  In addition, they should also strive to become leaders.   Leadership and management are different in many respects.  They are both required to effectively guide and direct complex organizations.

Academic administrators, especially those in presidential and top-level positions, have many diverse responsibilities to fulfill in their professional roles.  As heads of learning institutions, top administrators should be respected by the faculty and others in the line of the organization.  As heads of multi-million dollar organizations, top administrators should be well-versed in business, administrative, and economic theory.   As heads of non-profit institutions, top administrators should be skilled in promoting their institutions to contributors and to those in charge of allocating funds from a variety philanthropic, grant-giving, and state funding agencies.   As heads of social organizations, top administrators should be inspiring and motivating to those over whom they work. 

Faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, boards of trustees, accrediting bodies, communities, governments, and interest groups all place different demands on college and university officials.  This wide variety of stakeholders and constituencies who have vested interests in the institutions requires that those filling top-level positions be versatile and able to diplomatically appease the demands of the various groups.  To successfully meet such a diverse set of professional demands, top administrators must be able to switch between 10 managerial roles that managers and organizational leaders must regularly perform and assume to function effectively in their positions.  He described those roles as:

  1. Figurehead
  2. Leader
  3. Liaison
  4. Monitor
  5. Disseminator
  6. Spokesman
  7. Initiator/Changer
  8. Disturbance Handler
  9. Resource Allocator
  10. Negotiator

All10 managerial roles apply to college administrators.  In fact, to effectively perform their role responsibilities, administrators must be proficient in all 10 of Mintzberg’s managerial roles.  Of particular interest in this essay is Mintzberg’s “leader” role.  In Mintzberg’s list, it is just one of the 10 roles that he identified and appears no more important than any of the other nine roles.  However, the leader role deserves considerably more attention.

Leadership is a word that is used in American culture to refer to a wide variety of power relationships and is often misused as interchangeable with other words and concepts (click here to read an article from the Abilene Reporter-News about these ideas).  Not until one understands the distinctions between leadership and other words that describe power relationships can the true importance of the leader role be understood. 

The management and administrative functions of a top-level college position requires that things be kept in order—many of Mintzberg’s roles are management roles.  Management deals with complexity—planning, organizing, and controlling work.  Managers make sure that things are done to help the organization accomplish its work in a coordinated and efficient way.  As far as the relationship with people, management is concerned with finding the people best able to fulfill work responsibilities, training and compensating those people, and communicating with those people about goals, processes, progress, and adjustments.

Leadership is something different.  As mentioned in the Abilene Reporter-News article, leadership involves creating idealized visions, inspiring and building confidence in others, setting personal examples for the followers, and working with the followers toward the group’s goals.  Leaders, through their visions of an idealized end state, provide followers with a desired destination toward which to work.   The visions provided by leaders and the confidence they instill in their followers give the organization steadiness and direction in times of change and uncertainty.   Leaders create and thrive in change.

Top-level college officers should be administrators—they should spend time and energy ensuring that the things that need attention and action receive attention and action.  They should oversee the administrative and management processes of their institutions to make sure that they function efficiently and that they properly plan for and accomplish their goals.  However, in addition to being effective managers, top-level administrators should also strive to be institutional leaders. 

Colleges and universities are social organizations—they are made up of people and the work that they perform involves the transformation of people (i.e., students).  To effectively guide social organizations, top-level administrators must be leaders.  They must create and establish visions of idealized states that the members of the organization find desirable and which they wish to attain.   Through effective motivation, individualized attention to people, inspired confidence, personal example, and clearly articulated goals, leaders help guide and show their people the things they can accomplish together.  Effective leaders create cultures that value exceptional accomplishments, teamwork and interdependence, member contribution and involvement, and learning and improvement.

Through the processes of leadership, followers can become self-active leaders themselves.   Leaders ensure that everyone in the organization understands and clearly sees where the organization is going and what needs to be done to get it there.  Once followers know where they are going and why getting there is important, they can be free to do their parts in getting to the goal.   Effective leaders are able to inspire and encourage those they work with to become leaders themselves.   

If top-level administrators fail to become leaders or disregard leadership, they will find themselves managing organizations that have no accepted goals, steady and certain direction, or self-active and contributing followers.  Those who are only administrators might have well planned, efficient, and organized institutions, but their schools will lack a vitality and energy that only comes with committed, directed, and high-performing people.


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2006, 2007, 2008 Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved