Seasons of presidential leadership

From time to time, while I’m on the phone or attending a conference, someone suggests an idea for this magazine. Likewise, when our editorial team is talking to colleagues, they often get good suggestions for books to review or people to interview. And occasionally a leader from one of our member schools emails us with a question that we don’t know how to answer — perhaps it’s a question about a new topic that we haven’t previously covered.  

That’s what happened earlier this year. A president reached out to me asking about presidential sabbaticals: What’s the common practice? Do most presidents take a sabbatical? And if so, when and for what purpose? In doing some preliminary investigating, we realized that very little information is available on presidential sabbaticals in theological education. We’d certainly not covered the topic in In Trust magazine. So we launched a member survey and were overwhelmed when 92 presidents responded. Clearly there was some interest in this topic!

We learned that most presidents have not taken a sabbatical — sometimes because of institutional policy (or the lack of a policy implementing the practice), sometimes because they’ve been in their current position for too short a time, and sometimes because there has simply been no time or funding available to make a sabbatical possible. 

Yet, as we have heard frequently, the role of the president is all-encompassing and all-consuming, and the presidency can be  profoundly isolating. That’s why some leaders have found that taking a sabbatical is essential to their well-being. In “Presidential Sabbaticals: A Challenge to Find the Time,” David Sumner describes a variety of ways leaders have found to rejuvenate themselves and renew their productivity. 

As our editorial team discussed the topic of presidential sabbaticals, other executive leadership issues arose. 

Presidential leadership is seasonal. One of the In Trust Center’s former board members, David Tiede, used to say that while he had been president of Luther Seminary for 18 years, he had really had three different presidencies — three different kinds of leadership for three different eras within the seminary’s history. Each required him to take a different style and approach, and each required a different level of support from other stakeholders — the board, the administration, and the faculty. 

There are times when the season calls for something different. For example: hiring an interim president can be a wise option for schools during times of transition. Interims can be contracted for a specific term to help move an institution through major change or to address a critical issue before new leadership is welcomed. In “Temp at the Top,” Jay Blossom’s interviews with William Crothers and William Nelson offer some insights on how boards can consider, invite, and support interim leadership.

Finally, this year marks the 20th anniversary of “Women in Leadership,” a gathering of women presidents and deans within the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). Extensive research has been conducted over the last few years by our ATS colleagues, but we would be remiss if we didn’t share the perspectives of a few of these leaders. What has changed for women leaders over the last two decades? What hasn’t? And where do they find the support they need? Read more in “Called to Lead."  

There are more presidential topics that we will cover in future issues of In Trust. What do you want to read more about? Let me know at president@intrust.org. 

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Article from: Autumn 2018

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