Reflecting back on my 26 years as a university president, I often think about issues for which I could have done more. Since leaving campus and as I speak with other college and university leaders, I am aware of the number of presidents who have been fired or forced out prematurely. Could some kind of “early intervention,” leadership advising, or coaching have made a difference?
For example, I called President A at the beginning of his second year and asked him how things were going, to which he responded, “if they were going any better, I might be worried.” A few months later he announced his resignation “for health reasons.” I took a call from President B; the board had just voted to fire her, and she wanted me to know it before it hit the press. She apologized for not having been honest with me when I reached out to her a year earlier to see how she was doing.
These presidents were having problems, and they were too embarrassed to tell a colleague. I believe that in both cases their problems could have been solved or the situation improved had they felt comfortable talking with someone who had walked in their shoes. For this reason, I am happy that an increasing number of board chairs, system heads, and presidents are beginning to talk about leadership advising. If it is done formally, and early on, a coaching consultant could turn worrisome situations into a win-win for all parties.
I am not suggesting that every presidency will be a successful one if you engage an adviser. What I am saying, however, is that this partnership between an adviser and the president will increase the likelihood that the university will benefit from a successful presidential tenure.