Leading change has been the greatest leadership challenge for
Zelema Harris, president of Parkland College. "ItĂs natural for
people to fear or resist change, especially when our institutions have
operated in a fairly consistent manner over the past two to three
decades. As our work becomes more technology-driven, we will see
current systems, old hierarchies, and rigid thinking fall by the
wayside," she said.
"The challenge for the 21st century leader will be helping her
faculty and staff adapt to change and become part of the Šcollective
mindworkĂ of the organization." Another challenge for Harris is to
lead change in certain areas "where I might be considered a one-issue
person ¨ like diversity."
To lead people through change requires a steady hand on the rudder
and an eye on the direction and mission of the college. Keeping
focused on the mission can be a challenge when technological,
political and economic turmoil threaten the status quo.
Some leaders fail to recognize that "so many people in the community
college movement donĂt know a thing about the college," Harris said.
"TheyĂre clueless about the mission and purpose of the community
college," she said, referring to the Truman Commission report that
said the "community college was set up to serve the poor and
On what campus leadership skills are needed now and next, Harris
quoted Rosabeth Cantor, who said leaders of the future "can no longer
remain insular. Leaders of the past erected walls that they must now
replace with bridges." They must partner with others, develop leaders
throughout the school, and know as much about the school as possible,
Harris said, and "teach an entrepreneurial vision."
A college president in the new century also will need "a clear sense
of her own and her collegeĂs values, which will serve as a compass,
providing a clear direction, for both the leader and her institution."
Women are well suited to lead, considering their strong collaborative
skills. "Women leaders can and should be at the forefront of ensuring
that our technology-oriented institutions remain Šhumanized,Ă" she
Asked what she would have liked to have known before she got to be
president, Harris noted, "ThereĂs a set of unspoken beliefs" ¨ for
instance, assumptions about how one feels about lesbians and gays. She
would have liked to have known in advance about "the kinds of
prejudices that exist and continue to exist in programs based on the
fact that all are on the same page."
Sometimes leaders become so wrapped up with the minutiae of schools
that they lose sight of the mission. "We need to provide nurturing and
support for individuals," Harris said. Sometimes a school offers
everything "but love and compassion. We need to create opportunities
for people to come together."
Margaret Lee, president of Oakton Community College, found it
hard to choose a single challenge "because of the scope and pace of
change on a planet that is increasingly becoming a worldwide
One challenge she recalls clearly was the atmosphere on campus after
a faculty member found what appeared to be a ticking bomb in a central
stairwell. Almost a dozen more bomb threats occurred in the next three
months. "People lived in fear," Lee said. "We were being terrorized."
Lee learned to provide steady reassurance to the campus community, and
eventually the threat passed.
Her greatest personal fear? "As a new president, I was scared of
Storytelling solved her problem. "I think the presidentĂs role is
chief storyteller," she said. "When I told the story of the work of
the college ¨ how it has changed peopleĂs lives ¨ I found people were
fascinated and ready to open their wallets. Stories help us understand
the mission and values we share. Stories inspire and motivate." The
most powerful stories are about students whose lives have been changed
by the community college. "Stories remind us of the importance of the
work we share," she said.
Lee listed a "constellation of skills" useful to 21st century
leaders: Imagining the future, thinking anew, welcoming change,
fostering innovation and creativity, enabling others, celebrating
difference, creating communities, caring intensely about people,
compelling trust and always learning more.
When taking over the presidency at Lake Land College, Robert
Luther faced major challenges ¨ including red ink, a 20-day
faculty strike, a declining enrollment base and a deteriorating
infrastructure, having no new buildings constructed since the 1970s.
But an even greater challenge was the lack of teamwork in addressing
these crises. "The leadership team was not cohesive; neither was the
board," Luther reported. "It took a great deal of persuasion to bring
people and goals together as president."
He said a successful 21st century leader would: Maintain commitments,
demonstrate integrity, be a people person, understand the
organization, have a great deal of curiosity, show superior judgment,
know who they are and what they stand for, have no fear of
confrontation, inspire confidence, listen to others, have a vision,
allow people to take risks, trust the talents of others, be a
collaborator and diminish the competition within the college, such as
student services versus academic services.
Finally, "a successful leader must always keep the end in mind,"
Luther advised. "Ask yourself whatĂs in the best interest of the
student." It may be difficult, but perhaps a faculty member whoĂs
always had the same office hours or taught the same classes will need
As the new president of Illinois Valley Community College, Jean
Goodnow faced many challenges. The district was proud not to have
raised the tax levy in 30 years. But she said her biggest challenge
was "to model a set of leadership principles ... to mobilize people to
create an energized learning community" there.
"One of the most important things is to know yourself," she said. A
leader must achieve results, act with integrity and demonstrate
concern. Other attributes she listed: Excellent communication skills,
the ability to be assertive with people at all levels and treat them
the same, problem solving, community building, as well as the ability
to motivate others by encouraging, praising and criticizing (not to
mention providing energy, staying positive and demonstrating an
"abundance mentality"), and a true passion for serving students.
At this point a listener deadpanned: "Jean, how do you get that
passion?" Goodnow said sheĂd found humor and the ability to tell
stories helped connect people and get the point across. But learning
this skill wasnĂt easy.
Another question was on how to prioritize tasks. Lee admitted, "The
flood of paper across my desk is overwhelming. But I put people before
paper because paper will always wait."
Harris tries to ask: "Is it good for Parkland? Is it good for me?"
Still, she has "a tendency to say yes to everybody and then I spread
myself too thin."
A final question: "How do you move people forward?"
"We are constantly educating and teaching," said Goodnow, who tries
to give people opportunities for success outside of the box, tough
challenges which she introduces as "a new opportunity to grow."
Luther walks through the buildings each day to "listen, persuade and
involve people. You have to show your people that you care about them.
I sit behind the buildings with the custodians, too. They have ideas
and information as well."
Zelema Harris, Parkland College (217) 351-2231.
Margaret Lee, Oakton Community College (847) 635-1801.
Robert Luther, Lake Land College (217) 234-5222
Jean Goodnow, Illinois Valley Community College (815) 224-2720