I love watching leaders lead, and learning from their actions. What a ;few week this has been at UVA for watching leaders lead! If you haven’t been reading the stories, start here and maybe track the events at the Daily Progress. In a nutshell, UVA President Sullivan was asked by the UVA Board of Visitors to resign. She did. People were shocked, questioned the process, blah, blah, blah. Even more interesting was “the Darden angle,” a conspiracy theorist version that Darden alumni were behind the coup. Read that take in The Hook and an update. You get the picture. The story plays out. The community freaks out, faculty protest, class cancellations are threatened. The governor weighs in and edicts resolution. The board meets again and votes unanimously to reinstate. Back to normalcy? We’ll see.
So how did the various leaders lead? History will judge. My observations:
UVA President Teresa Sullivan was relatively absent from the dialogue. But my colleague Erika James has an insightful look at President Sullivan’s take on the events. Read here. President Sullivan’s leadership right now can be summed up by a Bible verse she quoted on Sunday morning (after she had resigned) while delivering a sermon to Mount Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Her leadership: introspective, patient.
UVA Board President Helen Dragas also stayed very quiet. Until she could no longer. Then I felt she spoke with facts—at least her version of reality. She shied away from media—she tried to make this not about her, or President Sullivan, but about the University. As the facts have played out, perhaps she did not have quite the backing she thought, but my take is that she led boldly and acted decisively—not a trait that runs rampant in University towns. Additionally, she changed her mind and admitted her mistakes. Politicians never change their minds—they aren’t allowed to by the media. But Helen stepped up and said, okay, I’ve got further insight, and I think President Sullivan can lead this University to where it needs to go.
Darden Dean Bob Bruner was dragged reluctantly into the fray. He, as he always does, led thoughtfully and transparently, and with heart. He communicated openly and honestly with his constituencies. When Darden was implicated, he boldly denied and provided facts. When he was misquoted in the WSJ, he reacted positively with anger. I like to see that. Most of all, he LED constantly throughout the turmoil—leading his team, his brand/institution, his reputation, his peers and the community. In situations like this, leaders need to lead—Bob did.
The UVA Board—actually my most disappointing constituency. At least some part of the Board led the ouster of President Sullivan, for apparently some good reasons. Yet two weeks later, not one would stand by their original decision. Yes, perhaps they all changed their minds based on new facts and input, but I wish just one had had the courage to stand by their original decision.
So, in summary, good leadership in the past few weeks was: quiet, reflectively, bold, fact-based, transparent, from the heart. If we could have combined all those traits into the various leaders from the beginning, then perhaps this mess could have been avoided. Ah, it’s so easy to be a monday morning quarterback.