Dr. Nancy Wayne

Scientist, Educator & Speaker

Pearls of Wisdom from Executive Leaders

During the past 7+ months, I have had the tremendous opportunity to learn leadership in action through an American Council on Education (ACE) fellowship. I have been spending my sabbatical year at the University of Redlands in the Inland Empire of California – a short distance from my home institution of UCLA, but also a world away. My decision to (temporarily) jump ship from a large, research-intensive, public university to a much smaller, liberal arts, private institution was purposeful and has given me many new insights into the business of higher education.

There are 43 ACE Fellows this academic year from all over the country and from very different types of institutions – from community colleges, to small private institutions, to large publics, to ivy league universities. As the fellows are learning leadership in action at our host institutions, we are also learning from dozens of other executive leaders as we travel on college/university site visits and as part of the ACE formal programming.

WAT pearls-of-wisdom_imageBelow are a few “pearls of wisdom” about LEADERSHIP that the fellows have collected to date. Although these insights come from college and university leaders, I think they are broadly applicable to leadership in any type of organization.



  • Leadership is about building relationships and being authentic. People need to trust that you are who you say you are and will do what you say you’ll do.
  • It is necessary to take time off for stress relief. Members of your team often plan their lives around your schedule. Model self-care and take vacations.
  • Don’t use “yes, but …”; instead use “yes, and …” when developing pathways to success.
  • Leaders have the freedom to dream big, but be willing to take criticism when decisions are made.
  • It’s important to have an ally who can give you opportunities and act as a sounding board.
  • Do things the universe presents to you even though it wasn’t part of your original plan.
  • Care more about the responsibility than the title. Don’t forget what it’s like to work at different levels of the organization.
  • You need to try to move the needle, but know it might be undone quickly with different people moving in.
  • It’s important to have a good relationship with your budget manager/treasurer. Work together strategically to make the money work for the institution’s needs. The chief financial officer should help the institution figure out how to accomplish actions that are in alignment with the mission and strategic plan of your organization.


  • Three rules of leadership emails:
  1. Read three times before sending to look for spelling and grammatical errors.
  2. Look for any language that could insult someone in the intended audience.
  3. Question your emotions at the time the email was originally written. Were you angry or irritated? Did those emotions leak into the language of the email?
  • A leader’s reflections on politically fraught decisions and communications: you know you got the message right when everyone is a little dissatisfied.
  • Regular communication is critical, especially in times of change, and particularly with faculty. Explain what you are doing and why.

Ethics and Integrity

  • As a leader, you need to run your organization with the highest integrity, and to communicate that broadly. Communicate the common mission and goal.
  • A leader’s reflections on doing the “ethical thing” versus doing the “politically expedient thing”: You have to put a stake in the ground, and it has to be based on principles. And then you have to be willing to lose your job over principled decisions.

This is an ongoing project for the benefit of current and future leaders in higher ed and beyond. Please feel free to share your own leadership “pearls” in the comments box below.

Image credit: https://leadingwithtrust.com/2014/05/11/mothers-day-special-8-pearls-of-wisdom-from-mom-about-building-trust/

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2019 by .
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