Features & Perspectives
This edition of President’s Perspective continues our discussion of Max De Pree’s “attributes of leadership” that were included in his 2008 book, “Leadership Jazz.”

Four attributes (integrity, vulnerability, discernment, awareness of the human spirit) were addressed last time. Eight more follow:

* Intellectual energy and curiosity. The complexity of university life today has turned decision making into a process of learning and discovery that requires intellectual vigor on the part of any of us leading here. We cannot make good decisions unless we accept the responsibility for learning the things that produce them. Those who lead are learners from whom we learn.

* Sense of humor. A compassionate sense of humor requires a broad perspective on the human condition and an accounting for different points of view. University folks often are very clever with words. We, more than people in other kinds of work cultures, need to keep our humor compassionate.

* Respect for the future, regard for the present, understanding of the past. Leaders here move continuously back and forth between the present and the future. But our perception of each becomes more clear and valid if we understand the past. The future requires our humility in the face of all we cannot control, even while we create new opportunities. The present requires attention to all the people to whom we are accountable. The past gives us the opportunity to build on the work of our elders. I almost never use the word “change,” preferring instead to talk about extending the university’s work into the next concentric circle.

Extending our work outward from the center requires what scientists call centrifugal force. Such force is generated from vision and passion. But we also experience a centripetal force that draws us inward toward our center. That force is generated by what we believe in minds and hearts and is symbolized by traditions.

* Predictability. To their colleagues, leaders owe predictability as a human being. This differs from predictability in strategic planning or decision making, something leaders of course must pursue. Leaders must be calculable forces in organizations. They are not free to follow whimsy even though they are responsible for envisioning. Tending a vision is as difficult as conceiving one, and both are essential.

* Breadth. A vision of what an organization can become has room for contributions from all quarters. De Pree borrowed this from Walt Whitman: “leaders are people large enough to contain multitudes.”

* Comfort with ambiguity. Healthy organizations exhibit a degree of chaos. They also are places of meaning for people who prefer centripetal movement, and at the same time, for people who prefer the centrifugal. Organizations and departments delegate the job of dealing constructively with ambiguity to their leaders.

* Presence. The ability to stop and connect is an important trait of leaders. We all must be present to answer and ask questions, to listen to problems and ideas, to seek the nuances, to follow up a lead. Leaders quietly and openly wait for the information, good and bad, that enables them to lead.

I will close this edition with a word about words. They matter. Words recently spoken by the elected leader of this country matter a lot. They symbolize a leadership event that was short on most of the attributes we have included in these Perspectives. In fact, predictability appears to me as the only attribute of the 12 that characterized President Trump’s words.