Single Skilled Leaders

Over the last several years, those of us in public universities have witnessed the terrible effects of financial distress. Invariably, the solution by HE leaders and state government is the same: budget cuts. Our leaders, educated in critical thinking, know of only one action to take when financial problems arise, thereby demonstrating no creativity or knowledge of other actions that could be taken. They are single-skilled leaders when it comes to financial problems.

Imagine I were a chef, formally educated in culinary arts, and working at a restaurant. In response to people’s hunger problem, I cooked only scrambled eggs. I offer the same solution to people’s hunger problem, all the time. Just scrambled eggs. People would tire of that very quickly. Similarly, are we (students, staff, faculty, and even our leaders) tired of zero-sum budget cuts? Is there not something productive that can be done? Something that is non-zero-sum?

One would expect educated people in leadership positions to know of more than one method to deal with financial problems. Decades of experience, high position, and high pay suggest they should know different solutions to a common problems – that they would be multi-skilled leaders. But this is not usually the case, and reveals that most leaders are terrible problem solvers.

What is the alternative? How about improving the value proposition for students and payers by improving academic and administrative processes. This practical alternative to budget cuts, if done correctly, engages people in fun and exciting work that leads to lower costs, higher quality, more timely delivery of services, and higher customer and employee satisfaction. Unlike budget-cutting, this is a productive (and non-zero-sum) activity. But doing this requires our HE leaders and state government officials to eschew taking the easy way out and instead learn many new things. To date, there has been far more willingness to destroy the value proposition for students and payers than improve it. It does not have to be that way.

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