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Mary Darden: Key traits mark great leadership, including in political realms

Mary Darden: Key traits mark great leadership, including in political realms

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Mary Darden

When I enrolled in my doctoral program in higher education leadership at Baylor University 16 years ago, I chose as my dissertation study 18 women presidents of four-year colleges and universities across the United States and the pivotal attributes contributing to their success as institutional leaders. The findings were fascinating. Among these were the reported traits of successful presidents. I compiled all of these into a description of what is required to be an “ideal president” and I have included this description in my next book on the future of higher education. Some appear self-evident. Others, however, may surprise you:

It is most important for the ideal president to be energetic, passionate and charismatic, to have and articulate a vision and to look and sound presidential.

This president should be authentic, friendly, fun and agreeable, along with being smart and knowledgeable and possessing a great sense of humor.

The ideal president is goal-oriented, determined, persistent, direct and directive, and has a strong work ethic and works hard.

This president is an honest, quick, self-aware, self-examining, fearless, creative, organized, intellectually lively, perceptive extrovert with the highest integrity and a commitment to excellence.

The ideal president is someone who manages time well even under pressure, is a good public speaker, has a wide range of interests, genuinely loves and connects with people, listens well, flexibly embraces new knowledge, and then, by using good judgment, intuition and rigorous prioritizing, operates efficiently.

This president makes tough decisions, sticks by them, follows through and weathers adversity, believes in self, is self-confident, punctual, technologically skilled and well-known.

This president pays attention to detail, focuses on education and is able to stand back and not interfere with good performance.

When looking for the ideal candidates to vote for in the ongoing election, it might be helpful to consider these traits, key assets that presidents of institutions of higher learning have named as being crucial. If you find candidates who fit this overall description, then they have some of the essential underpinnings for leadership success and perhaps are worthy of your support and vote.

Exemplary leadership is the single most important component of any leader and determines whether one’s organization, institution or government thrives or declines. If we all thoroughly consider each prospective candidate and then vote, we are most likely to succeed in electing the best possible leaders for our country.

Mary Darden is the president of Higher Education Innovation, LLC, and author of the book “Beyond 2020: Envisioning the Future of Universities in America,” co-published with the American Council on Education and Rowman and Littlefield. Her second book titled “Entrepreneuring the Future of Higher Education: Radical Transformation in Times of Profound Change” is scheduled for release February 15, 2021.

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