Case Study on Leadership: UVA President

This article comes from the Washington Post and highlights the leadership style of newly reinstated UVA president Teresa Sullivan. Takeaways from the article that can be used in the government sector include ideas for transitioning into a new position, balancing the needs of many (board of rectors, council, etc.) and the importance of making an effort to understand employees on all levels of the organization.

Teresa Sullivan: The ousted U-Va. leader who may regain the post

By  and Donna St. George, Published: June 25

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Early in her tenure as University of Virginia president, Teresa Sullivan sat down with her vice presidents and made this request: “Stay with me.”

If they would remain in their jobs for 18 months, time for Sullivan to prove herself to them, she would give them at least that long to prove themselves to her.

All of them stayed. But when the honeymoon was over, Sullivan’s job was on the line.

Sullivan arrived at Virginia’s insular state flagship two years ago as the ultimate outsider. And she worked her way in, building a support network and winning allies across the length and width of the Grounds — from stodgy, old-guard alumni to the freshly minted students on the Lawn, from suits at the business school to costume designers in the drama department.

“You can move fast, or you can move incrementally. But it doesn’t matter unless people follow you,” said David Leblang, the politics department chairman. “People follow her.”

But out of the sight of faculty and students, dissent was deepening. Sullivan, it turned out, had a major blind spot: She apparently failed to detect an erosion in support from her governing board. Leaders of the Board of Visitors began working in secret last fall to build a case against her. Rector Helen E. Dragas, claiming the backing of other members, forced Sullivan’s resignation on June 10.

To Sullivan’s critics on the board, her patient, deliberate approach was a liability. They wanted her to enact change, not pave the way for it — to stop running for president and be the president.

“Simply put, we want the university to be a leader in fulfilling its mission, not a follower,” Dragas told the board last week.

Dragas may have underestimated the breadth of Sullivan’s support. Virtually every conceivable campus constituency has mobilized in her defense, including students, academic deans and rank-and-file faculty members. Tuesday, the board that voted for an interim successor to Sullivan will gather here to consider giving her the job back.

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