Published in 2006, A Handbook for Seminary Presidents was sent to the president of every school accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. To create the 250-page hardback book, editor G. Douglass Lewis and associate editor Lovett H.Weems Jr. commissioned 16 major articles on a variety of topics, including 10 different chapters on the president's role in academic affairs, financial management, governance and more.
The handbook's first chapter was written by Association of Theological Schools executive director Daniel Aleshire, along with Cynthia Campbell and Kevin Mannoia. In it, the three explain how leadership of the community is the central task of the president. This section, from pages 9–11 and 14–15 of their chapter, is reprinted with the permission of the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Leading a community
The fundamental nature of leadership is embedded in community. Leadership is not the private exercise of gifts for the gratification of the leader. If there is no community, there is no reason for a leader. A soloist doesn't need a director; a choir does, and only a choir can make music that involves the complexity and beauty of multiple parts sung by multiple voices. A choir leader is needed because a choir has a musical goal that only a choir can attain. A theological school has a mission that only a community of people working together can accomplish. It takes students, faculty, administrators, contributors, trustees, and congregational and denominational constituents. The vocation of leadership in a theological school involves the efforts necessary to help a community accomplish the mission that only a community can accomplish.
Because leadership is a function of the work and needs of the community, one of the first requirements of a leader is a reasonable "fit" with the community. That fit has to do with the affinity a leader feels for the mission and work of the school, the constituency it serves and the legacy it bears. The person who is an ideal and effective president of one school may be totally ineffective in another. Leadership in theological schools is more than the exercise of certain gifts and abilities. It is the use of those gifts and abilities within a particular community with its unique ethos and culture, at a particular time in the community's history. Ethos and culture change over time, the needs of the community and its mission change over time, and the effectiveness of a leader will be as much a function of fit with the school's identity as it is a result of the competent use of skills, abilities and leadership capacity.
Because leadership is one of the many gifts needed by communities with work to do, it is never a function of an individual's desire or ability to lead. Leadership is necessary because the community can't do its job if it does not have someone who provides three critical resources for its work: maintaining focus on the mission, coordinating and guiding the efforts necessary to accomplish the mission and securing and managing the resources that the mission requires. Presidents do not choose to work in these areas; they are the tasks that go with the job. These are not tasks that impose on the president's "real" work -- these tasks are the real work. Rather than an unwanted burden, these tasks are the means by which presidents engage their fundamental calling.
Central to the president's job is maintaining the school's focus on its mission. An organization has a way of forgetting its primary goals and investing resources and time in activities that are not central to that mission. Different people in a community have different ideas about what the organization should do or the ways in which it should be done. Leadership involves providing the community with the direction and discipline necessary for its mission. At times, the mission needs to be reconceptualized; at other times, it needs to be refocused; and at still other times, it simply needs to be faithfully and effectively implemented. Communities seldom are able to stay focused without someone whose job is to help it stay focused on its primary mission. Leadership helps the community stay focused on its mission.
Schools, like all communities with a mission, need someone who will provide overall guidance and coordination. Schools, even small theological schools, are complex organizations, and while each serves a common mission, their individual units have a way of going in different directions unless there is someone whose job is to see that tasks are coordinated and integrated and serve the organization's purpose. The president is often the only person in the organization who is formally held responsible for the work of the organization as a whole, so presidential leadership involves the guidance necessary to keep that work coordinated and integrated.
Theological schools need someone to find and manage the resources that are needed for their work. These resources include money, facilities and personnel. Presidential leadership typically involves a close relationship with securing the needed funds and facilities, oversight of the processes related to managing those funds and facilities and participation in the processes that secure the personnel. These areas of work go together, and the president cannot be responsible for obtaining money while others decide how to spend or manage it. Effective presidential leadership is typically not dictatorial, but it does require ownership of these principal tasks and the capacity to support the community by finding and securing the necessary resources.
These three principal tasks are not necessarily the work of a single individual. In many ways, it is most helpful to understand the presidency as a function, not just as an individual's job. One individual can't raise the money, keep the books, speak to the constituency, coordinate the overall mission of the school, and attend to the supervision of its people. It almost always takes more than one person to do all of this. In many schools, the job of the individual called president is to supervise and coordinate the work of several individuals who, together, serve the presidential function.
Leadership of a community is not only an institutional necessity; it is also a requirement for the function of the presidency. For the presidency to work, the seminary needs capable people who form a leadership team, who are empowered and entrusted by the president to do their work and who are held accountable for getting it done.
Leading through change
One way of understanding leadership is that it is not necessary unless the institution needs to move from one place to another. If an institution doesn't want any improvement, expansion, or redirection of its work, it doesn't need much leadership. Competent management can oversee an organization that seeks only to do what it has done in the way it has done it before. However, in this era, simple management will not be needed for long. Organizations that do not change have a way of ceasing to meet their missions, even if those missions themselves do not change. Leadership in a theological school is an exercise in the art of discerning what should change, what must change, what should not change and for what purposes appropriate change should be undertaken. Change is always complex, it is typically resisted, and its outcome is never obvious at the start. It is as difficult as it is necessary. Leadership involves helping the school discern when change is needed, identifying the trajectory the change should take and guiding the community across the uncharted terrain that characterizes any change.
Change is not limited to the school. David Tiede, who retired after 20 years as president at Luther Seminary, talked with a group of seminary presidents about the several jobs he had had during those twenty years. He concluded about halfway through his tenure that he was already on his second job, and if he were to stay, his job would continue to change. Leadership is like that. As the community accomplishes certain goals and faces new and different challenges, the work required from the president changes. The skills and commitments that led the school well as it addressed issues that are now resolved are of considerably less value when the school is facing other issues and agendas. The Luther Seminary board formalized this perception by determining that it would reexamine the president's job description every five years to identify what most needed to be done and the presidential skills most needed to help the institution accomplish these tasks.