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View From The President's Office: The Leadership Of Change



"Presidential leadership is about action, but it is also about establishing the right tone."

Presidents Leadership Group, 1997


In the context of organizational change, style refers to management and leadership style. While styles are somewhat intangible—and intensely personal—interviewees cited four elements of style they found important in dealing with college drinking issues.


While presidents and administrators have understandable concerns about emphasizing alcohol problems, interviewees agreed that facing issues directly and without "spin" was critical. It may begin with a simple willingness to admit a problem exists on the campus, but it can extend to approaching other sensitive issues openly and encouraging staff to do the same. For example, at a recent meeting President Lyons tackled an issue everyone had recognized but no one had previously raised. "Does anyone feel hypocritical," he asked, "forbidding the use of alcohol in residence halls when 200 yards away at a reception wine is flowing freely?" While he and his staff are still grappling with such policies, a tone has been set that gives people permission to question and sets an expectation that being honest about concerns will not be punished.


A style emphasizing consistency includes insisting on activities and policies that are consistent with an institution's overall strategy, avoiding mixed messages, and requiring uniform enforcement of policies. It also involves showing concern for fairness.

For example, when the decision was made to give top priority to reducing alcohol problems, the University of Rhode Island totally banned alcohol service at any university function. Yet President Carothers recalls that he was constantly bombarded with requests for exceptional treatment. "The first year, especially, was very rough, and I was tested by various constituencies all the time. Everyone felt their circumstances were 'special.'" I found that being tough and consistent helped me get the message across: this policy is here; it will be enforced; it is a priority.

"Perhaps the most visible test of consistency was when our football team was caught in a melee with a fraternity at a party where alcohol had been served. I suspended the entire football team and forfeited a game, which was the first time in NCAA history that a university had forfeited a game for disciplinary reasons. We got press coverage all over the country about this decision, and the principal response on and off campus was positive—people were tired of having their environment compromised by privileged treatment for substance-abusing athletes."

Another aspect of consistency is developing alcohol/substance abuse policies for staff, faculty, and administration—not just students.


A common theme among presidents interviewed was their availability, despite time constraints, to discuss alcohol issues and address needs and concerns. Dr. Nancy Matthews, the project director of the Louisiana State University Campus Community Coalition for Change, notes how important this leadership style is for program and administrative staff. "It is essential, " she says, "for day-to-day program leaders to have direct access to the top. I've been here 17 years and seen more hierarchical approaches; they can really slow down progress." In addition, however, many show accessibility by being available—and taking the initiative—to talk to students, parents, and alumni, as well as community leaders about alcohol issues.

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Last reviewed: 9/23/2005

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