Portraits in Leadership

by Arthur Padilla

If you enjoy learning about leadership "in context," then Portraits In Leadership is a book for you. Dr. Art Padilla, long associated with the College of Management, North Carolina State University, examines the lives of six "extraordinary university presidents," drawing leadership lessons from their lives and leadership. 

Padilla writes, “The university is one of the more enduring and complex enterprises in the long history of human organizations; it thus provide a useful vehicle through which to study the phenomenon of leadership in all of its human expressions." 247 Indeed it is. Dr. Padilla highlights the complex nature of educational administration, multiple demands, and even diminished power power due to multiple constituents (trustees, faculty, donors), and the boundaries they create. 

Padilla devotes chapters to the complexity of the university and the nature of leadership before diving into the case studies of Clark Kerr (University of California), William Friday (University of North Carolina), Father Theodore Hesburgh (Notre Dame), Hanna Gray (University of Chicago), John Slaughter (University of Maryland), William Bowen (Princeton). He concludes his work by summarizing his findings from their collective experience in the chapter he titles, "Lessons, Conclusions, and Implications."

This book was worth my investment of time!

So many takeaways. Here are five:

1. Leadership occurs at the intersection of personal history and organizational context. It is that intersection that reveals particular leadership styles. Given differing histories and organizational cultures, styles of leadership vary. There are, however, certain patterns that emerge. The author addresses these in the final chapter, "Lessons, Conclusions, and Implications."

2. While there are universal challenges (communication, vision, collaborative coalitions, fund raising), each university is unique as are the leadership strategies/models of their presidents.

3. Physical and psychological stamina is absolutely essential to institutional leadership. Of the six leaders he evaluated in this book only one showed no signs of the “predictable patterns of work and renewal" so essential to effectiveness. 216

4. Each leader showed an amazing capacity for work, resilience, interpersonal relationships, and an understanding of the institution and it’s context.

5. His breakdown of the five main parts of university structure: (1) governance and senior administration, (2) internal support operations, (3) external development, (4) student affairs, (5) academic functions of teaching and research.

Padilla makes the point that readers of leadership hear often: “A compelling finding from the case studies is that the 'made or born'“ schism is not particularly relevant. 258