Leadership : Up Close and Personal

Vol. 12, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

Guest Editors: 
Virginia L. Clark & Frances E. Andrews

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Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM,
Vol. 12, No. 1. 
1546-2676. Editor: Dorothy I. Mitstifer. Official publication of Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society. Member, Association of College Honor Societies. Copyright © 2000. Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM is a refereed, semi-annual publication serving the profession of family and consumer sciences. The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the society. Further information: Kappa Omicron Nu, PO Box 798, Okemos, MI 48805-0798. Telephone: (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003

Interested in submitting an article to KON FORUM? Papers are now being accepted for review.


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Kappa Omicron Nu


Building Future Leaders:
A Critical Issue for Family and Consumer Sciences

Virginia Clark

Dr. Clark is Dean, College of Human Development and Education, North Dakota State University.

That’s the risk you take if you change: that people you’ve been involved with won’t like the new you. But other people who do will come along.

--Lisa Alther (Eisen, 1997)

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to hire, or have a significant role in hiring, several first-time higher education administrators. Among these have been department chairs, Cooperative Extension and Experiment Station Administrators, associate vice presidents, and deans. Each of these individuals has come to the position with an excitement and enthusiasm that was contagious. However, in a few months (maximum of a year) each has become frustrated, often to the point of questioning why s/he had ever taken an administrative role. I can understand exactly the feelings—I have been there, too!

In addition to the frustrations mentioned above, in most cases the people, who were colleagues prior to a move into administration/leadership, suddenly decide (as indicated in Alther’s quote) that they are dealing with a new person and they don’t like the change. Support groups and networks that have previously existed, sometimes for years, are no longer available! I have actually heard faculty indicate that an administrator is no longer loyal to their field of study if every decision that is made does not favor that field. For example, I know many deans (including myself) who have been accused of trying to eliminate Family and Consumer Sciences Education because that particular major had to be moved to (or combined with) others in a new department or school. In most cases, this change was made to provide some strength and “protection” for the education major because enrollment had shrunk and it had become very hard to justify the structures of the past.

Society as a whole seems to have a negative attitude toward people who take the challenge to become leaders. A quick review of the treatment of politicians, community leaders, church leaders, educational leaders, etc., will provide many instances of public/member/faculty and staff perceptions that are inconsistent with the leadership role that the leader has been asked to assume. It seems that many potential leaders have taken a hard look at this reality and decided it is not worth the “hassle.”

This issue—the challenges and “hassles” of leadership—appears in the popular literature, as well as in the professional. In Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders, Jack Ryan finds himself in a leadership role he has not even considered and is not sure he wants. At the beginning of the book he is reflecting on his new position as President of the United States and his previous experience and training: 

I’m a historian, Ryan told himself. I’ve written books. I’ve judged the actions of others from a safe distance of both time and space. Why didn’t he see this? Why didn’t he do that? Now, too late, he knew better. He was here now, and from the inside it looked very different. From the outside you could see in, looking around first to catch all the information and analyze it as it passed by, stopping it when you had to, even making it go backward, the better to understand it all, taking your time to get things exactly right. But from the inside it wasn’t that way at all. Here everything came directly at you like a series of onrushing trains, from all directions at once, moving by their own time schedules, leaving you little room to maneuver or reflect.” (Clancy, 1997, p. 28-29).

I can identify with Jack Ryan. I can remember looking in at many of the leaders I worked for, and with, and wondering exactly why they had made a decision I felt certain was wrong! Now that I am in a leadership role, I can look back and I see that there was no way I had all of the information that was necessary—my right solution was not based on the “big picture,” and I had time to analyze the situation (even after the fact), a luxury that was not possible for the person in the leadership role. By the way, although Jack Ryan questions himself many times throughout the story, in the end he does decide that he is the right person for this significant leadership role.

Leadership has become an intensely personal proposition; it is not uncommon today to see those who disagree with changes that are occurring take measures to attack and punish the person(s) “in charge.” Leaders must have their “act together” and feel good about themselves personally, or they will not have the stamina to maintain their leadership role. In addition, today’s leaders must not only take care of those who “follow,” but must also take care of themselves. Leadership in today’s world involves a willingness to “lay yourself,” in addition to your ideas, on the line.

Given these circumstances, the challenge for higher education, and specifically Family and Consumer Sciences in higher education, is to develop a contingent of future administrative leaders, as well as to build a system of continuing support in those leadership positions. This paper provides the rationale for that need and suggests some possible strategies that are necessary.

The Need

As mentioned above, the climate is not often one that encourages new professionals to consider building an academic record and the experiences that are needed for administrative leadership. “A leader must endure a great deal of abuse. If the leaders were not like water, the leader would break.” (Heider, 1988, p. 155). Campuses can offer tough and lonely climates, and often “we” versus “they” attitudes. Beginning administrative roles, such as serving as a department chair, are often difficult to manage as a person can be caught in the faculty/administrative syndrome—still a faculty member but also an administrator. I remember two particular faculty members who had been masters of getting everything they could from both “worlds”—taking every administrative privilege offered while also serving in faculty leadership roles, such as chair of the faculty senate. When these people moved to full time faculty positions, they worked very hard to assure that people in similar administrative roles (to the ones they had held) could not also serve in faculty leadership roles. The climate they created (and still create to some degree) is a very hostile one for administrators, particularly new administrators who are still trying to be successful as both a faculty member and an administrator. This type of climate certainly does not create incentives to enter administration, nor does it provide support for those who are currently in those roles.

A quick review of Family and Consumer Sciences administrative positions across the country is telling. For example, during 1997, the dean at Iowa State retired and Kansas State’s dean announced her retirement; both the dean at Ohio State and at the University of Tennessee decided to return to the faculty. In 1998 and 1999 the administrative positions at University of Nebraska, University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, and University of Missouri were open. Several searches for chairs in various departments and deans were re-opened once and sometimes twice, because no suitable candidates were available. The jobs are there, but often the right people to fill them are not!

Astin and Leland (1991) concluded that building new leaders, as well as sustaining those in leadership roles, were both important. “Once again, they (the leaders who participated in the study) reminded us of the importance of role models and mentors and of the personal support one leadership generation can provide to enable its successors” (p. 160). The study also affirmed that a leader could not survive (at least for very long) in solitude. “On the contrary, the most experienced leaders in our sample . . . needed opportunities for colleagueship that promote the sharing of wisdom and insight, away from the heated battles of the activism they generated . . . . If we are to sustain leaders with their creative energies and vision, then we should be more deliberate about it . . . . We urge more creative and generous rethinking of the rewards, recognition, and replenishment we offer our leaders. We would like to see opportunities for individuals to plan for successive stages in their leadership development in ways that will satisfy their personal interests and goals while at the same time contributing to organizations and institutions.” (p. 161-163).

Providing the Encouragement

Vicki Carr (Eisen, 1977) is credited with saying, “When you’re young and someone tells you what you are and shows you how to be proud, you’ve got a head start.” Although the research is not abundant in this area, the studies that have been done do affirm that role models and mentors have made a significant difference in the lives of those who have been successful leaders. Cantor and Bernay (1992) found that consistent enabling messages from multiple sources were an important factor in decisions made related to leadership.

Lesmeister (1996) found that role models were important to leadership development (her study focused on female leaders in higher education). Other factors that Lesmeister found to be important in leadership development included mentors, early family environment, participation in challenging experiences throughout life, and opportunities and experiences for learning leadership.

Mentors have been shown to be important for the leadership success of both men and women. Edson (1988) and Irwin (1995) indicated that mentors appeared to be twice as important to the success of women, whether in business or educational settings.

Mentors are leaders! According to Heider, “Good leadership consists of motivating people to their highest levels by offering them opportunities, not obligations. That is how things happen naturally. Life is an opportunity and not an obligation” (1988, p. 135). I have been fortunate enough to receive this type of motivation and mentoring from several leaders throughout my life. I know for a fact that without these people I would not have even considered leadership roles; in one case this motivation helped me make the final decision to return to graduate school and earn my doctorate. At every opportunity I have had for a new position or a leadership role, I can remember someone (not always the same person) being there to assure me that I had the abilities, and should “go for it!” For me, and I believe for most everyone, it took more than just the belief that I could do it—it took the encouragement and affirmation of someone I respected and viewed as a role model. In fact, I don’t think I ever remember asking for information and advice and being told no. I have come to believe that most leaders are very willing to help provide information or just to listen, but are not always asked for help. It can be affirming to have a person seek you out because they value your ideas—everyone benefits.

I particularly like Heider’s concept of leader as facilitator. “What we call leadership consists mainly of knowing how to follow. The wise leader stays in the background and facilitates other people’s process. The greatest things the leader does go largely unnoticed” (1988, p. 131). My personal experiences have led me, like many others, to make the time to provide encouragement, support, and experiences for faculty, staff, and students as I work with them. In addition, I have come to believe that we must also identify ways to provide peer support and networks and to encourage and foster these in positive ways. For example, we have found it tremendously helpful to provide a forum for department chairs on our campus where they identify issues that are of concern, or that they want to explore. They are given the time and resources (speakers, etc.) to meet once a month to explore these issues. These are sessions that are attended only by the chairs (no deans, etc.), so they can focus on their issues and perspectives. A recent session was structured for sharing their tools for measuring faculty performance and determining merit—I hear it was a lively session. Regardless of the productivity, the session provided a safe place with colleagues/peers to share ideas and to raise questions about an administrative responsibility that was common to all.

One of the most recent publications by Pritchett is titled, Fast Growth: A Career Acceleration Strategy (1997). As the title indicates, the text focuses on building your career “fast,” with an emphasis on using the present to build for the future and to focus. According to Pritchett, “The fuel for fast growth comes when energy is contained . . . compressed . . . channeled. It’s simply a matter of giving yourself more fully on a . . . narrow front. Power accumulates quickly when there are fewer ways for it to escape” (p. 14). Although I am not advocating fast growth, I use Pritchett’s quote to emphasize the importance of focus and the need for those who are, or have been, in leadership positions to provide information and support (based on experience and observation) as potential leaders select their focus.

Facilitating the growth (mentoring) of new/developing leaders could be compared to the Enlightened Leadership Model. In their model, Oakley and Krug (1993) identified five essential consistent actions. These included support for understanding a vision, providing positive discipline that brings out the best in people so they can achieve the vision, putting people first, modeling responsibility, and having high expectations. To put these actions into mentoring/facilitating terms: encourage potential leaders to have focus; provide encouragement and support; tell them what they are doing right; provide chances for experience that builds toward the focus; remember that you may be a role model; believe that it can happen in order to “make it so.”

In higher education we have often made the assumption that a good faculty member makes a good department chair, dean, provost, etc. Although it may be desirable for an administrator to understand the role of a faculty member and to have credibility as a teacher and researcher, these roles in no way prepare a person for the role of administrator/leader. “There is nothing in the career of most faculty members that explicitly prepares them for the tasks of assuming the chair. The work of Lucus underscores the need for new department chairs to receive training in the skills necessary to fulfill the responsibilities . . . “ (Pew Higher Education Roundtable, 1996, p. 9). The article continues, “A very good chair can be said to possess both vertical ‘outside’ vision of the discipline and horizontal or ‘inside’ vision of the institution” (p. 9-10). Richardson takes this idea a bit further, “In my work I have regularly recorded that when progress occurs, solutions are less frequently provided by a specialist and more often emanate from a generalist’s comment . . .” (1997, p. 91). She goes on to describe the interdisciplinary nature of issues that every organization must address and the need for organizational leaders to possess a broad, generalist point of view. John Gardner (1990) discusses specialization as a hindrance to leadership. “Leaders have always been generalists. Tomorrow’s leaders will, very likely, have begun life as trained specialists, but to mature as leaders they must sooner or later climb out of the trenches of specialization and rise above the boundaries that separate the various segments of society. Young potential leaders must be able to see how whole systems function, and how interactions with neighboring systems may be constructively managed” (pp. 159-160). Therefore, as new chairs are hired, it is important to provide time, support, and opportunities to learn as “fast as they can,” and to temper our expectations with the reality of the experiences they bring to the job.

In thinking back on my experiences as a new department chair, an acting dean, and a dean of a new college in a new location, I was lucky in almost every case to have supervisors and colleagues who had a great deal of patience and were willing to answer my questions and provide the support I needed. I was also lucky enough to have mentors when I was in graduate school who taught me to ask when I did not know and to seek out the best people to provide the answers—that became second nature to me, but only because someone else helped me realize that it was okay. I have learned, however, that not everyone feels comfortable asking for information and often sees that type of request as an imposition on someone who is already very busy. I have learned that it is my responsibility to make myself available and to create an environment where asking is okay.

. . . and the Support

In addition to building new leaders, providing support and motivation for those in leadership positions is also critical. Although there is much to read about how to take care of yourself, how to prevent “burnout” etc., there is not a great deal of research that talks about this aspect of leadership from a collective point of view. However, it is critical that we take this aspect of building leaders for Family and Consumer Sciences seriously. The climate of higher education is often difficult, and reorganizations, cuts, and mergers may threaten the existence of Family and Consumer Science units. Strong, creative, “new-age” leadership is needed to position these units for the future, in ways that we may not even have conceived but that build on our heritage and remain true to our mission. The key question, however, is how do we provide that support?

In The Fifth Discipline, Senge (1990) talks about the learning organization as a place where people continually expand their capacity, where new ways of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspirations are set free, and where people are learning to work together. Maybe Senge’s ideas provide a base for support for current leaders. To paraphrase his ideas:

  • Allow for difference and support growth (even if it is in a unique direction);
  • Create opportunities for learning (together) new ways to address common issues;
  • Provide a setting and time for creating the future together;
  • Build on the differences, but don’t let them divide.

Covey’s (1989) sixth habit, synergize, has to do with finding better solutions together. Through creative cooperation the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The process of getting to the whole can provide an opportunity for support, renewal, and affirmation.

In a speech to the Council of Administrators of Family and Consumer Sciences in 1997, McDonough stated, “The key factor in a university in a time of change is the ability of its leaders.” He also said, “Leadership is like being a trapeze artist without a net.”

In this time of change, the key factor for Family and Consumer Sciences in Higher Education is the ability of its leaders. Continuing to identify and provide training and support for new and potential leaders as well as providing support systems for those in leadership roles are critical for viability in the next century. To accomplish these goals is to provide the net below the trapeze.


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Astin, H.  S., & Leland, C. (1991). Women of influence, women of vision. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cantor, D. W., and Bernay, T. (1992). Women in power: The secrets of leadership. New York: Houghton.

Carr, V. (1997, March 2). Believing in ourselves. In A. Eisen, 1997 Calendar. Kansas City, MO : Universal Press Syndicate.

Clancy, T. (1997). Executive orders. New York: Berkley.

Covey, S. R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Edson, S. K. (1998). Pushing the limits: The female administrative aspirant. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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Heider, J. (1988). The tao of leadership: Leadership strategies for a new age. New York: Bantam Books.

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McDonough, P. (1997). Speech to Annual Meeting of Council of Administrators of Family and Consumer Sciences, San Francisco.

Oakley, G. L., & Krug, D. E. (1991). Enlightened leadership. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Pew Higher Education Roundtable (1996). Double agent. Policy Perspectives, 6(3), 1-11.

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Richardson, J. (1997). Strategic leadership: From fragmented thinking to interdisciplinary perspectives. A Leadership Journal: Women in Leadership - Sharing the Vision, 1(2), 91-100.

Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art of practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.