An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change

By Warren Bennis | Go to book overview

9
Searching for the Perfect
University President

There was a time when a university presidency was a dream job, an opportunity to be a leader in a world—devoutly to be wished—where ideas were as real as the furniture. Robert Hutchins of Chicago, James Conant of Harvard, and Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia were giants who shaped not just their own institutions but the course of intellectual life in America. They had the tenure of Supreme Court justices and almost as much influence.

Over the past twenty-five years the job has changed dramatically. Today's university president has the half-life of a spring flower. He or she is often a full-time fund-raiser and a full-time defendant in legal actions involving the campus. His or her impact on the curriculum is minimal. Instead the president must be a shrewd politician and a nimble conflict manager. The rest of the time is spent working with opinionated, often eloquent stakeholders who feel they have the right, even the responsibility, to tell you what to do. All this under the watchful eye of the press. Few executive positions involve so few degrees of freedom—which may be why so few giants seek university presidencies today and why those who accept them burn out so quickly.


Introduction

During the past twelve months more than 170 colleges and universities have chosen new presidents, including two men who failed to survive even their first year in office. As of February this year [1971], at least 112 schools were still looking for a chief

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An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • An Invented Life - Reflections on Leadership and Change *
  • Contents *
  • Foreword *
  • Preface *
  • 1 - An Invented Life: Shoe Polish, Milli Vanilli, and Sapiential Circles *
  • 2 - Is Democracy Inevitable? *
  • 3 - The Wallenda Factor *
  • 4 - The Coming Death of Bureaucracy *
  • 5 - The Four Competencies of Leadership *
  • 6 - Managing the Dream *
  • 7 - False Grit *
  • 8 - On the Leading Edge of Change *
  • 9 - Searching for the Perfect University President *
  • 10 - When to Resign *
  • 11 - Followership *
  • 12 - Ethics Aren't Optional *
  • 13 - Change: the New Metaphysics *
  • 14 - Meet Me in Macy's Window *
  • 15 - Corporate Boards *
  • 16 - Information Overload Anxiety (and How to Overcome It) *
  • 17 - Our Federalist Future: the Leadership Imperative *
  • Index *
  • Permission Acknowledgments *
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