Celebrating the Public and Private Aspects of Leadership

As leaders, we are ambitious for our institutions, as well we should be. We demand much of ourselves to set and accomplish goals that promise to advance our institutions. We take our roles seriously, work hard, and quickly become adept at multitasking. Our calendars are populated with events, meetings, and planning exercises. Resource generation and allocation preoccupy us. We attend to multiple constituents whose contributions and good work are important to the well-being of our institutions. We often find ourselves balancing the special interests of individuals and groups with the interests of the units we lead—the department, college, or university. We are more often than not in the throes of making decisions on numerous matters based on carefully gathered input and data—decisions that must be informed, timely, communicated widely, and explained. We are strategic and tactical; visionary and hands-on. 

Demands and expectations are high. So why lead? I submit that there is joy to our work and cause for celebration if we take into account both the public and private aspects of leadership.  

As leaders, we all need an occasional diet of public victories—the tangibles of our collective good work with our leadership teams. Commencements are perhaps the most public of our victories. For me, the truest measure of our success is played out as our students march across the stage with their friends and loved ones cheering them on. It is a time that reacquaints us with our founding mission of changing lives for the better through the education we provide. I am renewed at every commencement ceremony.  

The big grant, transformative gift, new building, commendations awarded, or championships won are also accomplishments to celebrate with ample recognition to those who helped facilitate their happy conclusions. Victories of the public kind reenergize us, set our expectations higher, and give our many constituents confidence and pride; both in our institutions and in us as leaders. We should relish these occasions; they will most certainly become part of our leadership legacy. 

But then there are other victories much less grand in scale that—if we take time to reflect on them—should bring great personal satisfaction. As leaders, we need a steady diet of day-to-day quiet victories. We should never lose sight of occasions when we have leveraged resources wisely, won the confidence of a naysayer, or mitigated an unintended consequence. Each time we have managed a difficult situation, maintaining a voice of reason and composure when unhappy voices challenged us, deserves a bit of self-pride. Accomplishments of this kind bring little to no fanfare, but we should nevertheless take personal stock of each small success and celebrate them at the end of the day. And remember that they too are the building blocks of our legacies, and they will ultimately define our character and temperament as leaders.  

Madlyn L. Hanes, Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses and Executive Chancellor, The Pennsylvania State University