“Ever to excel”: A study of presidential leadership in progress

Mark C Reed, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation considered higher education leadership not in the context of rescuing a failing or distressed institution but rather in the context of strengthening an already-strong institution, marshalling the resources necessary to do so, and leading the way. This research took the form of a case study of Boston College under the leadership of its current president, William P. Leahy, S.J. Higher education institutions have many constituencies that bring their own perspectives of what the institution should be and how it should get there. Navigating this complex landscape successfully requires strong direction, a defined mission and appreciation thereof, a capacity to understand time, place, and context, an ability to influence opinion, and ultimately, the skill to affect change. Boston College, Fr. Leahy, and senior leaders were compelling and interesting research subjects for this study. The research questions were: How have the president and his leadership team assumed their roles and strengthened the institution? What have been the vision and key decisions of the president and senior leadership, and how have they gone about articulating, developing shared ownership and responsibility for, and making and executing the decisions to realize the vision? Where has resistance to the vision come from and how has it been handled? Existing theories of leadership, management, and change informed the findings and analysis of this study. The leadership and organizational change theories and models posited by Bolman and Deal (2003) and Kotter (1995), along with consistent themes that emerged from the data, were used to facilitate organization of the findings and recommendations. Recommendations included an emphasis on hiring and promoting strong leadership; embracing opportunities; allocating time to the most important strategic and management priorities; grounding and continually connecting strategic direction and vision to institutional mission; marshalling the support of the board; being informed, listening and consulting, but also staying the course; developing and implementing an on-going communication plan; and committing to an in-depth understanding of fiscal and operational management. While derived from the specific situation at Boston College, the recommendations should be of interest and applicable to higher education leaders in general or to anyone in a leadership role.

Subject Area

School administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Reed, Mark C, "“Ever to excel”: A study of presidential leadership in progress" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3311549.