On Gator Leadership

I am frequently asked about my views on leadership and the qualities that make a great leader. Most of what I know about leadership I learned by observing other leaders, including university presidents. Two presidents acclaimed for their leadership, and with whom I had personal connections, died this year. They were Cornell University President Elizabeth “Beth” Garrett and University of Southern California President Emeritus Steve Sample.

I attended the memorial service for Beth Garrett in Ithaca, New York, this past March. She was young and expected to be president for a decade or more. Although she served for only eight months, the Cornell community was inspired by her considerable energy and optimism.

Steve Sample and I studied and worked in the same electrical engineering departments at the University of Illinois and Purdue University, although he was more senior. Steve went on to presidencies spanning nearly three decades at the University of Buffalo and the University of Southern California. He is credited with transforming USC into one of the nation’s great research universities.

Both Steve Sample and Beth Garrett had leadership qualities that I admire, including a focus on excellence, a strategy for strengthening their universities and a clear understanding that the most important asset of a university is its people.

In addition, Steve Sample wrote one of the few books on leadership I have found helpful, “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership.” The chapters on “Artful Listening” and “Work for Those Who Work for You” provide insight into some of the attributes I have worked to cultivate in myself.

There are two additional chapters I would add if I were authoring a book on leadership. The first would be titled “Persistence.” I have learned over my 39 years as a university student, professor and administrator that it’s impossible to overcome many challenges on the first try, but that they are often surmountable on the second try … or at least the fourth or fifth!

The second chapter would be called “Patience.” I have learned that I need to be patient with myself and with others, and that ironically, being patient often speeds the outcome I am working toward.

Our university is a world leader in many areas, but we are working to be an even greater leader among the world’s universities. Our strategic plan for the next decade describes our overarching aspiration with the following words: “The University of Florida will be a premier university that the state, nation, and world look to for leadership.”

Leadership is our goal, not only for UF but for all Gators. With persistence and patience, UF will be the university – and Gators will be the people – that the world looks to for leadership.