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


Leadership as a Flowing River

Sharon Y. Nickols

Dr. Nickols is Dean, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens.

Rather than “turning points” in my professional life, the analogy I believe is most appropriate for the development of my role as a leader and administrator is that of a “flowing river.” The symphonic composition, “The Moldau,” by Bedrich Smetana provides a sound poem for how I conceptualize the way my leadership role has developed. Smetana’s music describes the river Moldau as starting as a quiet rivulet, gathering strength as water is added to it, cascading and rushing through some of its course, and as a mature body of water traversing its way through the countryside and into the future. The river is a life force, sustaining others, helping to shape its environment, and also being replenished itself.

My role as a leader seems to be a course that was pre-ordained for me. Perhaps it is because I am a first-born child, perhaps it is because my first grade teacher let me keep my left-hand preference even though it made me different from all my classmates, or perhaps it is because my mother encouraged me to be confident and helped me develop skills through 4-H to become a leader. Whatever early experience or combination of experiences was the rivulet that commenced my journey with leadership, I can’t remember a time during my childhood and adolescence when I was not a leader. That doesn’t mean I was always in charge. I also learned to work as a member of a team.

Two significant leaders in family and consumer sciences who were Deans of Colleges of Home Economics can be viewed as “tributaries” to my “river” of leadership development. Dean Doretta Hoffman at Kansas State University influenced my aspirations for graduate school and provided a role model for women in higher education administration. Dean Hoffman had a program for identifying the outstanding undergraduate students, inviting us to a luncheon with our mothers, and challenging us to go to graduate school. I view this as a “bend in the river,” a course I had not previously planned to take. With Dean Hoffman’s inspiration and the support of my husband Sam, I completed a M.A. degree in Family Life Education at Teachers College, Columbia University during the two years following the completion of my B.S. degree.

Dean Beverly Crabtree at Oklahoma State University (OSU) where I was on faculty from 1976 to 1986 was also a role model. In addition, she invested resources in the leadership development of many faculty members at OSU. By supporting my attendance at the Emerging Administrators Workshop in 1982, she contributed to my preparation for administrative roles. I began to give my leadership river a name, such as “head,” “director,” or “dean,” as my career path emerged. Dean Crabtree believed in me, as she did in many others whose careers she helped to foster. In effect, she said through her words and deeds, “Become what you already are.” For me, that meant following the leadership river on its course into new territory and adventures.

Like most of us who are in administrative positions, I experienced some boulders and rapids. I interviewed for administrative positions that weren’t the right fit, and although it felt at the time like the bottom was falling out because of the disappointment, I can look back now and realize that going through those experiences contributed strength, resiliency, and compassion, all of which were useful characteristics as my leadership flowed into the future.

My leadership river is still flowing. From the feedback I receive, it is nurturing the development of students, faculty, and staff. It is also nurturing other emerging administrators. To continue the river analogy, I think my leadership role may be transformed from a river into a lake. I do not plan to travel any further along the journey through higher education administrative ranks and roles. Rather, my goal is to provide superior leadership to the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia and to let my leadership abilities ripple into the Athens community. To this end, I serve as a Commissioner on the Athens Housing Authority Board and give my time to other community endeavors such as Child Watch. In the larger professional community I have committed time and energy to the development of future leaders through my participation in developing the 1994 and 2001 Emerging Administrators Workshops, sponsored by the Family and Consumer Sciences~Administrative Leadership Council. I am more conscious now of how I can facilitate the turning points for others in their leadership quests.


Terry, R. W. (1993). Authentic leadership: Courage in action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Miller, J. R., & Vaughn, G. G. (1997). African American women executives: Themes that bind. In L. Benjamin (Ed.), Black women in the academy: Promises and Perils. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Bolman, Lee G., & Deal, T. E. (1991). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.