Higher Education Concentration: Case 10.2: A Model Campus
When Dr. Ron Camron became president of a small, private, religious-affiliated university, he sought to establish a consistent approach to leadership throughout the university. All the university’s stakeholders agreed that leadership was a desired focus, but Dr. Camron knew getting them all to agree on a common leadership approach would be problematic and challenging. He also had to ensure that the chosen leadership approach supported the mission and focus of the school’s religious affiliation. Dr. Camron was very aware that selecting the right leadership approach would set the tone for his presidency and could establish a legacy for future generations who attend the university.
President Camron convened a committee from all segments of the campus to research, evaluate, and recommend a leadership approach for the university. Almost immediately, the committee gravitated toward servant leadership. Because theirs is a faith-based university, the committee members recognized the similarities between the mission of the school and the tenets of servant leadership. The servant leadership approach also supported the committee’s desire to choose a leadership focus that would empower the university community and was attentive to the concerns of followers and those less fortunate within the local community. Based on the committee’s recommendation and President Camron’s own vetting of servant leadership with key constituents and trusted friends, the university adopted servant leadership as the leadership approach to emulate throughout the campus.
The campus was quick to embrace the overall concept of servant leadership but was unsure of the expected actions of servant leaders. Realizing this confusion, senior leaders at the university decided to better define the model of servant leadership the university would adopt. President Camron was intrigued by the writings of Robert Greenleaf and Larry Spears (Greenleaf’s protégé), and had the senior leaders read both Greenleaf’s and Spears’s perspectives on servant leadership. He then led a weekend retreat to outline a model of servant leadership for the university based on Spears’s 10 characteristics of servant leadership.
In implementing this model campus-wide, every student, faculty member, and staff member attended several seminars where the servant leadership model was described and discussed. Each incoming freshman and transfer student underwent a “Servant Academy” to understand servant leadership and to develop strategies to best exemplify and live a life as a servant leader. The university website spotlighted the message that the university was a servant leadership–focused university.
The initial results were very encouraging to President Camron. Students, faculty, and staff began to exemplify the tenets of servant leadership in the classroom and around campus. The trustees of the university were very pleased with the feedback they received from various donors and constituents who visited the campus or interacted with students and faculty. President Camron further exhibited servant leadership tenets through visible actions such as picking up trash at the football stadium after games and volunteering to serve students in the cafeteria. Overall, the first semester of the campus’s focus on servant leadership provided a hopeful start.
During the second semester, though, students and faculty seemed to lose focus on being servant leaders. Students were having difficulty understanding some of the 10 characteristics of servant leadership, expressing their belief that the model was somewhat complicated. A key issue among students was trying to embrace the tenets of servant leadership while simultaneously competing against each other for awards, scholarships, and recognition. Several faculty members used tenets of servant leadership as an excuse for inflating grades and not rewarding the most deserving students. Servant leadership seemed to conflict with the values of students who were achievement-oriented and wanted to excel. The notion of trying to get the highest grade point in the class did not seem to mesh with the altruistic values of servant leadership. Faculty also began to question the selection of the servant leadership model by only a small group of university leaders. Some administrators found that the model’s tenets made it difficult to prioritize tasks and allocate resources to meet the differing needs of the university and community.
President Camron is committed to developing a culture of servant leadership throughout the university as he sees great benefits from the university community having a common purpose and focus on serving others. But he is beginning to have major misgivings about it. He knows the university community is still adjusting to this new focus, but the concerns expressed and the rising resistance to the servant leadership model have made him question whether it will work at his university. Servant leadership is consistent with the school’s religious orientation, but is it workable for education?
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