What are the qualities that make an effective seminary leader? The Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Seminary set out to answer just that question in their study titled Leadership that Works. The research team found that the essential characteristics of high-performing leaders are personal strength, humility, interpersonal skills, and discipline. But in selecting a new president, how do you know if a candidate possesses all of these qualities, or whether that candidate will fit in with your institution’s culture and values?

This uncertainty can sometimes cause board members to doubt their ability to choose the right candidate. Fortunately, Tim Wolfred's 2009 guide, Managing Executive Transitions: A Guide for Nonprofits, provides insights and steps towards selecting a presidential candidate.

Wolfred outlines three broad stages of the selection process: Prepare, Pivot, and Thrive

During the Prepare stage, the board does the foundational work of assessing and articulating their institution’s vision and the qualities that a new leader will need to fulfill this vision.

The Pivot stage is the actual search and selection process itself; Wolfred provides advice on naming a search committee, writing a position description, and conducting interviews.

Finally, Wolfred stresses the importance of the Thrive stage, which comes after the selection of the new leader; boards should provide ongoing support and assessment of the new leader to ensure continued success.

The study from the Auburn Center reflects Wolfred’s stages in their “four habits of effective boards.” Habit 1 echoes the Prepare and Pivot stages, indicating that board members should provide direction in the search for a new president, assessing their institution’s strategic needs and direction, and selecting a leader who can help meet these needs. Habit 2 and Habit 3 align with the Thrive stage, specifying that effective boards provide extra help to new presidents and develop partnerships with presidents as they progress, providing supporting, guidance, and correction as needed. Finally, the Auburn study highlights Habit 4 – effective boards become stronger and more effective as a presidency comes to an end, taking stock of the progress made during the current presidency and developing a transition plan that will bring in the best candidate.

If you are going through a presidential transition, it may be helpful to use Auburn’s study in conjunction with Wolfred’s guide to establish exactly what makes a good leader and how to go about finding one.

Have you used either of these resources when conducting a presidential search? If so, did you find them helpful?

To access Auburn’s Leadership that Works for free, click here.

To purchase Tim Wolfred’s Managing Executive Transitions: A Guide for Nonprofits, click here.

You can read In Trust’s 2011 articles on this topic, Negotiating a Presidential Transition and, if you have an In Trust online account, Board leadership that works.


Image Credit: "Relay" by Changjin Lee