Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

The importance of gifted individuals

A series of personal insights reflects on the need for bold and progressive leadership to fight the forces that typically resist change.

If our universities [and colleges] are to adapt to the rapidly evolving world, they need bold and progressive leadership to fight the forces that typically resist change. I have developed a series of personal insights concerning the university system. They are:

  • That irrational inertia, though inherent to large systems, can be overcome with creative effort.
  • The importance of gifted individuals, and of keeping their groups small. If you want to accomplish something, gather a few people who really care to do it. In general, I find that larger committees accomplish less because of the conservative nature of the committee process.
  • Provide enough rope. One means of overcoming inertia is through a delegation of responsibility– providing motivation for change by providing "rope." In other words, give small groups of faculty the flexibility to make changes and revisions in their domain of responsibility.
  • That "naive" young intellects are critical in pushing the system into the future.
  • The use of successful models, proving that the reforms successfully established at one place can be reestablished at other sites.
  • The need for bribes, or "incentive funding," to create change. Leadership must use limited resources creatively to induce people to depart from their natural path of conservatism– basically, use a carrot rather than a stick to motivate change.

From a paper presented at the 1994 PKAL Symposium on Administrative Leadership, Trinity University, Texas.