Gangone on Higher Education Leadership: Podcast Interview

In a recent podcast with Enrollment Fuel, the organization’s president, Jacquelyn D. Elliott, interviewed AACTE President/CEO Lynn M. Gangone about what leadership means. The following summary highlights the conversation.

Opening the interview with a question about her definition of leadership, Gangone explained it as the process of orchestrating change “with people and for people” – that is, while the individual leader may have the power to implement change, the collective team is where change happens.

Common styles of leadership in higher education can be characterized as horizontal or vertical. Gangone said there is a liability in the way that many leaders take a traditional, vertical approach, leading with a mindset that is based on positional authority and hierarchy. In contrast, horizontal leadership provides more of that productive juxtaposition of the individual and the team, as well as of personal and professional knowledge and awareness. Traditionally, leaders in higher education are trained to think and lead with cognition, Gangone said, but leaders need to connect head, heart, and body: “Let’s get out of our heads.”

Leaders in higher education are saddled with a lot of responsibility and as a result experience a lot of pressure. Asked to share guidance for these leaders, Gangone advised taking a team approach, consulting diverse perspectives of team members for insights on how to respond to a problem, rather than trying to handle it alone. “Leadership these days requires a lot of thought, soul searching, and team effort,” she said.

Elliott noted that although people generally think of the institution’s president as its chief, the cabinet also plays a significant role, and she asked Gangone to offer a peek behind the scenes of how such a leadership team operates. Gangone explained that cabinets can have varying styles, which tend to be set by the president, depending on whether members feel welcome to speak out and offer their expertise. In order to lead a real team rather than a “fake” one, you need to have members who feel as though they can challenge their leader.

Turning to a recent article on stages of leadership, Elliott and Gangone discussed the culture in which leaders operate and the importance of understanding the roles and perspectives of individual team members. Recognizing and acknowledging the environment they face – such as severely reduced funding or other stressors – helps to build understanding and trust to move forward, but this takes patience. “People need time to embrace and understand change,” Gangone said. What’s more, they need to be engaged in the change. “And that’s hard to balance when you’re a leader and you have a sense of urgency.”

To listen to the full podcast, click here.


Jemima Cabedo

AACTE Intern