What? In May, Virginia Tech President Charles Steger announced he would step down as the University President after 14 years at the helm. During his tenure he has been heralded with growing the research portfolio of VT, raising funds in excess of $1.4 billion, expanding the outreach of the University, and supporting the arts. His list of accomplishments is long and impressive. Recently, the search committee that has been charged with finding his replacement hosted a listening session for interested parties. As a participant in one of these sessions I heard the speakers describe President Steger’s leadership style as deliberate, inclusive, collaborative and bold.
So What? As I sat in the listening session I heard all of the traits and qualities that the next president should possess. These included strategic, communicator, visionary, fundraiser, political skill, etc. As a student of leadership I was a bit taken back by the fact that nobody mentioned collaboration, inspiration, or team player. My view of leadership as a collaborative process informs my interest in the fact that collaboration was not mentioned during the listening session. I believe leadership is about bringing people together. It is a collective effort.
Now what? Although Dr. Steger has a long list of accomplishments, I am not naïve enough to believe that he has accomplished all of these things alone. He obviously had skills in bringing people together to accomplish common goals. I think during search processes like the one mentioned above we focus too much on “trait spotting” to borrow a term from Jackson and Parry. An individual can posses all of the traits that make a great university president, but if they cannot relate to people, collaborate and inspire them to do what is right all of those traits are for not. We have moved passed the trait approach to leadership in our field and think it is my role as a (future) leadership educator to enter the search committee discourse by offering an alternative paradigm from which to view leadership. This alternative approach views leadership as a collective process that values the social dimension of leadership.