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Leadership in Time of Crisis

Posted July 27, 2020 at 9:06 am

The original column appeared in the Tribune-Democrat , written by Dr. Steve Nunez. Click here to see original sourced column. 

Are leaders born or created?

Some assume that leaders are born, that there is some intangible force that some folks have that allows them to lead people, make tough decisions, and carry the burden of leadership from birth.

It is my opinion that leaders are not born; they are created, molded, taught, and mentored. If that’s not true, then I threw three years and several thousand dollars away when I worked on my doctorate in leadership. And I think West Point and the Naval Academy might have something to say about that, too.

I guess it is possible that certain personality types may gravitate toward leadership more than others. For example, those with charisma, those who can command a room, may dominate leadership positions through the force of their personalities.

But history has taught us that great leaders do not have to be charismatic; leadership is not a popularity contest.

Good leaders can be any combination of quiet, boisterous, introspective, visionary, deliberative, thoughtful, collaborative, open, honest, transparent, decisive, and many other qualities.

Having been in academic leadership positions for almost a decade, and having been through several crises, I fully recognize that good leadership really matters.

And what it has taught me is that listening to a diversity of viewpoints is critical to being properly informed, that disagreement among team members is fruitful when personal agendas are set aside for the greater good, and that, once decisions are made, collaboration is critical to advancing the mission of the organization; better decisions are made together.

Great leaders trust (and hold responsible) the people they lead.

I spent nearly 24 years in Illinois working at a small community college. Several years ago, the state could not pass a full budget, and consequently, the financial support to community colleges was significantly delayed.

At the time, we had a relatively new college president, who I’m sure didn’t sign up to lead a college through a financial crisis not of his making.

But he never complained.

Instead, he circled the wagons and engaged his team in conversation. Many small and some large decisions were made over two years to stabilize the finances of the college.

Ultimately, I think the college learned many valuable lessons about how to work more effectively together, make transparent but tough decisions, and become more efficient overall.

Sometimes hard choices make people understand that change is important and necessary to have a thriving organization. Ultimately, while it was stressful at the time, going through that financial crisis made that college stronger.

Today it continues to thrive as one of the best community colleges in the nation.

I am lucky to be surrounded by many great leaders at Penn Highlands. While their styles and viewpoints vary, they are committed to the mission of the college.

Their commitment has been particularly important during this COVID crisis. We have learned a lot about ourselves as a college, and I believe it has made us more cohesive and efficient. And it has only reinforced my belief that leadership matters – that cohesive, effective, deliberative teams matter.

See you at Penn Highlands.


Written By Dr. Steve Nunez, College’s Fifth President. This monthly series appears in The Tribune-Democrat, and will allow Dr. Nunez to provide his perspective on the value of education and of a community college.