Building a Senior Staff: The Burden of Support

August 15, 2012

Brian C. Mitchell
Huffington Post

Presidents must have the courage to lead. Boards must have the confidence to let them do so. This fact, ultimately, may be the most painful lesson learned at the University of Virginia.

As I prepared┬áto take over my duties as president, I sought the advice of a distinguished senior colleague who had experience outside academia and who was used to managing staff as a successful sitting president. I inquired about how best to proceed as I prepared to assume the leadership of an institution. His recommendation intrigued me. My colleague suggested that I seek the resignation letters of each member of the senior staff and place them in a desk drawer until I could make an informed decision about whether they fit into the new team that I would take forward. When asked if he had done so, the president smiled wearily and said simply, “no, but I wish I had.”

This story illustrates the difficult dilemma faced by presidents as CEOs when moving into a relationship with inherited staff. How do you build your team within a culture that the existing senior administrative staff has embraced and protected, and significantly, that may well have defined the senior team more than the team has defined the culture? What happens in those first months when you are the outsider on your own team?

To read the full article, you may view it here on Huffington Post.