Our progress is personal.
I remember my first day as the president at
Hartwick College (NY). Finally alone for a few moments, I sat down at my
desk, looked out the window, and took stock of the enormity of my new
role. I recall feeling the weight of my responsibilities settle onto my
shoulders. It was a physical sensation of the burden of leadership. I
carry this even today, nearly nine full years into my presidency.
The way we respond to the weight of
leadership is personal. This fall, I spoke to a group of women
administrators who were participating in a leadership formation program.
I led them through a decision-making exercise based upon an actual
incident and asked them, at intervals during the exercise, to write down
how they were feeling in response to the circumstances within the
scenario. I collected their notes, and shared some with the group. Their
words were powerful and diverse: they penned “stressed,” “frustrated,”
“overwhelmed,” and “angry” to describe how they felt in response to the
stimuli of the scenario. Even a paper-and-pencil exercise can evoke an
emotional response, and that response varies from person to person.
Leaders must attend to how they feel. The
daily challenges of leadership may shift, but our next step will
inevitably be influenced by our circumstances and how we react to them.
The reaction to leadership challenges is much more nuanced than “fight
or flight,” and every response to our challenges in our
environment—whether we register it or not—will impact our next step in
problem solving, and, possibly, our success.
I met a number of impressive future leaders
at last summer’s session of ACE’s Advancing to the Presidency program,
and have been privileged to continue to advise two women participants
who aspire to the presidency. I see in them the courage to lead, and an
awareness of their own responses to the circumstances of the
presidential searches they have embarked upon. Their reflections on
these experiences will prepare them to choose the best college or
university to serve, and be more responsive and adaptive first-year
I am encouraged that people are reflecting on
how they feel about our current political environment. These feelings
will serve as the predicate and catalyst for our response to national
events. I am filled with hope that the next moves we make will be based
on a full consideration of economic and social priorities. Leadership
requires that we “mind the gap” between what will be a sustainable
response and what is simply a response that will suffice in the near
term. Our students, our employees, and our communities are depending
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has
said that “the measure of your quality as a public person, as a
citizen, is the gap between what you do and what you say.” Perhaps the
measure of the quality of a leader is the gap between what you feel and
what you do about how you feel.
We are surrounded by women who are motivated
by their feelings about the importance of the leadership of women. Kim
Bobby has moved on from ACE to focus on other pursuits; Gailda Pitre
Davis now serves as the interim director for ACE Leadership and supports
our Women’s Network. How fortunate we are that two women who feel so
deeply about the power of women’s progress have chosen to support the
work of the WNEC and WNET. These women, along with Shavlik award winner
Judy Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida System, and
the leaders of the Oregon State University’s Difference, Power, and
Discrimination Program, are exemplars who act on what they feel strongly
about, and do it in ways that really matter to all of us. Their
personal progress benefits every member of the ACE Women’s Network.
Margaret L. Drugovich
President, Hartwick College (NY)
Chair, ACE Women’s Network Executive Council