Higher Ed: Enjoying And Embracing Conflict (And Other Leadership Lessons Learned)

Apr 14, 2019

A "Higher Ed" podcast listener recently wrote in with an intriguing question for Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger: as a university president, does Ed "see himself as more of a leader or manager? How does he differentiate the two concepts and does he place more emphasis on one area or another?" In this episode, KUT's Jennifer Stayton talks with Ed about what it means to lead and manage on and off campus.

Ed has clear points of differentiation between how he sees the duties of a leader and those of a manager.

A leader: "It's about thinking about the mission, thinking about what the direction of the instution or the project - whatever it is - is, and making sure that within a universe of distraction that we do our best not to be distracted by the noise and the bells and the ringing and the lights trying to take away that which we're supposed to be doing. In this proposition [education], it's about changing people's lives and making them better versions of themselves."

A manager: "Being a manager is the art ... of making sure an organization is running smoothly, fairly, safely, efficiently and within all the budgetary constraints that come along with any organization."

Given those definitions, Ed believes the role of a university president encompasses both leader and manager.

As per the listener's question, which one does Ed tend toward?

Ed says he does the work he does "for the innovation and education that we can accomplish."

So, more on the "leader" side, for sure, though Ed does concede a lot of "imagination and idea energy" is required to manage successfully.

Ed says he often turned to the late political scientist and leadership studies innovator James MacGregor Burns for insight about leading successfully. Burns' primary pieces of advice:

1). Focus on mission and goals

2). Choose good colleagues and associates

3). Expect, enjoy and embrace conflict

Ed says he understands the first two but still struggles with confronting confict rather than avoiding it. Listen to the full episode for more on leading and managing in and out of the classroom. The solution to last week's "guest puzzler" submission about digits will also be revealed.

This episode was recorded on April 2, 2019.

For all of the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.