Blog: The Visionary Servant Leader – A contradiction in Terms?

It is common on job advertisements, especially for cabinet level positions and deans, for institutions to ask that candidates be both a servant leader and a visionary/entrepreneur. It seems to me that a person with a vision has ideas about where they want to take the institution. This seems on some level to be at odds with the concept of a servant leader who is expected to be dedicated to the needs of the people they are leading.

In my years of leadership experience, I have come to respect the adage that a “change imposed is a change opposed.” A visionary leader therefore must be very careful not to show up on day one with all the answers and the path forward already defined. Academics in particular dislike being told what the solution to a problem is. However, they love being given a problem and asked to produce recommendations about how to tackle it. I have found that you can guide folks nearly as well with a set of well-crafted questions as you can with a set of directives. The downsides to this approach are it usually takes longer to get to implementation and the solutions are not always what you were hoping for or expecting. The real upside is that as you implement the solutions proposed by your faculty, staff and students you are acting as a servant leader. So, by using inquiry based leadership, similar to inquiry based learning, you can be both a visionary and a servant leader. Of course, there will be requests from below that are generated independently. The trick is to determine the correct balance between serving those independently generated needs and those generated by your inquiry-based leadership.

I would love to hear how other leaders address these challenges – please respond in the comments section below.


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Categories: Chief Academic Affairs Office Staff, Dean’s Office Staff (Deans, Executive Deans, Associate/Assistant Deans, etc.), Department Chair Office Staff (Chairs, Assistant Chairs, Program Directors, etc.), Foundation/Development Staff, Need a new type for me, Office Director’s Staff (Director, Assoc./Assist. Director, Coordinator, etc.), President’s Office Staff, Recurrent, University Board Member, Vice President IT Staff (VP, Assoc./Assist. VP, etc.), Vice President Student Affairs Staff (VP, Assoc./Assist. VP, etc.)

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