32 | COMMUNITY COLLEGE JOURNAL AACC.NCHE.EDU
They say it’s lonely at the top, but leaders aren’t
often alone. In fact, some of the best leaders rec-
ognize that they are one piece of a larger puzzle.
I am often asked about the attributes of a good
leader and it’s not always an easy question to
answer. There are certain attributes that are key
— honesty, integrity, accountability and empathy
come to mind. But many times you don’t know
what attribute is most important until you need it.
I have said before that I truly cherish watching
the upward mobility of the many amazing leaders
I have had the benefit of mentoring over the years.
Seeing someone become a community college
president and being even a small part of someone’s leadership journey is an amazing feeling.
But, once at the top, how do you lead an executive
team and ensure that the necessary attributes are
available when you need them?
I confess that I have been known to read often
about the topic of leadership and will bring forth
ideas and strategies that I feel may help us reach
the goals we are trying to achieve. Not unlike the
leadership experts that are featured at AACC’s
annual convention, I believe that refreshing our
notions of leadership and introducing new ways
of thinking and doing into any team can be beneficial. As a leader of leaders, it is incumbent upon
you to effectively communicate a vision and mission that is compatible with your institutional
strategic planning. It is also your responsibility
to provide the leaders on your team with the tools
necessary to reach those goals.
Here are some of the behaviors that I find useful.
• Acknowledge extraordinary effort. Even just a
short comment or note showing that you noticed
and appreciated a person or team that went the
extra mile is one of the most important and
empowering things you can do for a team.
• Praise excellence. Openly and publicly praise the
team and its leaders for excellent work and efforts.
Let them know that the quality of their work is
prized and respected.
• Applaud failure. Your team needs to know that
they can try different approaches and theories as
they work to attain goals. Sometimes they will fail
and that’s where the learning takes place. If they
feel there is a safety net, they will be willing to take
risks which may be rewarded with positive, lasting
change. When they learn and grow and ultimately
accomplish the goal, hopefully it is better executed
because they learned from what didn’t work.
Critical to all of these behaviors is the need to
continue to move forward. Whether for yourself,
your leadership team or your college in general, it
is important to balance the praise with continued
forward motion toward institutional progress. If
we start to believe our own good press, then there
is a risk of resting on our laurels and that is a risk
that likely won’t be rewarded.
Walter G. Bumphus is president and CEO of the American Association of
The attributes of a
By Walter G. Bumphus
“I believe that refreshing our notions of leadership and introducing
new ways of thinking and doing into any team can be beneficial.”