Lessons from a University President

English: The Cathedral of Learning at the Univ...

English: The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. photo by Michael G White (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My readers outside of Western Pennsylvania have probably never heard of Mark Nordenberg. This may be a good thing as the notoriety of a college president seems to be quite regional unless that president does something negative that catches the attention of the national media. So for those of you who don’t know, Mark Nordenberg is the Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. He has been in this position for 18 years and, this summer, announced that he will retire in June 2014. Eighteen years is a long time to be a university president. Most last 6-7 years before getting burned out or asked to leave. So Nordenberg’s tenure at Pitt alone is cause for us to take note.

But what’s even more impressive than Nordenberg’s long stay at the head of the University of Pittsburgh is the amazing transformation he guided. Under his leadership, the University’s endowment rose from $463 million to $2.99 billion; full-time enrollment grew from 27,002 to 32,781; applications for admissions went up from 7,825 to 27,626; and the University added 3.6 million square feet of space at a cost of over $1 billion. Most impressively, Pitt ranks fifth among American universities in the federal science and engineering research funding secured by its faculty (Pittsburgh Business Times, July 5, 2013). As these results support, Nordenberg has been the architect of perhaps the most significant organizational transformation in the history of higher education.

In an interview with the University Times newspaper, Nordenberg talked about the leadership qualities that helped him to such unprecedented levels of success. As I read them, I realized these are fantastic lessons that can help us all become better leaders. Here is what Nordenberg mentioned, followed by my thoughts.

1. A high capacity for hard work. My thoughts – We’ve all heard there is no substitute for hard work and this is especially true for leaders. In addition to having an incredible volume of work, we need to set the example for our teams. If we model a tremendous work ethic, we are likely to get the same from our teams.
2. Believe in the mission. My thoughts – Nordenberg mentions how his role involves working to put others in a better position as part of this mission. While he is talking about higher education, this lesson really applies to all leaders. As leaders, regardless of our organization’s mission, our leadership mission must be to make things better for our team members. When this is our priority, our team members will be loyal and motivated.
3. You have to like and respect people. My thoughts – Leadership is a people business. If you don’t like people, leadership is not for you. Furthermore, as the leader, it is important that you set an example of respectful behavior. If you treat your co-workers, staff, supervisors, customers – yes, everyone – with respect, you’ll find that your team does the same.

These leadership lessons served Chancellor Nordenberg extremely well during his time leading the University of Pittsburgh. They will do the same for us if we attempt to live them everyday. As leaders, it is critical that we work hard, we believe in our organization’s mission, and that we like and respect people. How are you doing in these areas with your team? If you need some work, there’s always time to get better. So start tomorrow….it could be the beginning of a long, successful tenure as leader of your organization, just like it’s been for Mark Nordenberg.

Thanks for reading,

Ways to follow Dr. Jim Earle:
Twitter @jvearle
Blog http://www.jvearle.wordpress.com
Facebook JVEarleConsulting
Book 100 Yards of Success: Leadership Lessons from College Football, http://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781625107312


One thought on “Lessons from a University President

  1. Pingback: Lessons from a University President – part 2 | Jim Earle

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