AGB’s most recent report, The 21st-Century Presidency: A Call to Enterprise Leadership, explores new forms of collaboration between presidents and boards to address the complex challenges facing today’s leaders. Below is an excerpt. Download the full report here.
Enterprise leadership encompasses a respect for the core values of the academy. Academic freedom in the pursuit of truth is foremost among them. The modern president also needs to publicly champion the liberal arts, especially with audiences that disparage them. In addition, the president needs to be empathetic in understanding why faculty members often resist change, as well as courageous in communicating the often uncomfortable realities facing the institution.
It is always best to work strenuously to make shared governance function well. But the enterprise leader must be willing to make tough calls when the conventions of shared governance prohibit consensus on vital new directions. And the board needs to support its executive in the face of inevitable conflict and criticism.
The enterprise leader recognizes that a college or university is not a business. But this executive also knows full well that unless the business side is successful, academic quality and even the existence of the institution will be at risk. It is no secret that the historic value proposition of higher education has eroded. The substantive value of a college degree may remain positive. Yet for students, families, policymakers, and the public at large, the narrative of high cost, long times to graduation, poorly educated graduates, and a dearth of postgraduate employment opportunities have combined to diminish higher education’s perceived value. The enterprise leader must give top priority to strengthening the value proposition—the promise that a particular college education is worth the time and resources invested in achieving the degree.
Finally, exercising enterprise leadership demands the focused efforts of a highly functioning team. The president’s effectiveness depends on finding and developing talent in key aspects of the institutional enterprise: finance, academics, student recruitment and retention, resource development, and often government and public relations. An active program of talent development from within the institution, including faculty members with the aptitude for enterprise leadership, is often a better option than hiring a stranger from outside it. The features of enterprise leaders have always been the virtues of exceptional presidents. Today, however, all presidents need to possess such traits to a substantial degree.