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Business Officer Magazine


Short news articles based on research surveys and peers’ business experiences that can benefit institutions

Leadership Attributes of a Different Nature

International Students at U.S. Colleges and Universities


The estimated number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities in 2009-10, a record high.


The percentage of international students from China, the largest share from any country.


The amount international students contribute to the U.S. economy.


The share of U.S. higher education institutions that expected to have higher enrollments of international students in fall 2010.

Source: Open Doors 2010: Report on International Educational Exchange (Institute of International Education)

When we think leadership style, we often think of the top-down autocracy of the military brass or the motivational style of the typical coach. But in his presentation "Creating an Environment Where People Want to Give Their Best," at the NACUBO 2010 Annual Meeting in San Francisco last summer, Keith Houck looked to Mother Nature for characteristics effective in developing a nurturing workplace. Vice president of administration services at Valencia Community College, Orlando, Houck suggested that rather than military generals or athletic coaches, effective business officers might better resemble gardeners or beekeepers. Once the audience gave the idea some thought, they accepted Houck's invitation to describe the traits business officers share with their horticultural and bee-tending counterparts.

Nurturing Ways

During the open-discussion period, session participants identified a number of actions that business officers might take to nurture employees as effectively as gardeners with particularly green thumbs. Among those strategies:

  • Realize that a productive garden requires planning and strategy over a long period.
  • Select seeds and plants best suited to the environment.
  • Provide proper nourishment based on the specific needs of the plant, vegetable, or bush.
  • Know when to prune or even remove certain individual plants to protect the health of the entire garden as well as the particular plants that move elsewhere.
  • Understand the importance of ongoing care and be on the lookout for even slight changes that may result from diseases or pests.
  • Focus on results and outcomes.

Such tending, when applied to staff, said Houck, "can take into account the fact that some employees are actively disengaged while others thrive on individualized attention and care."

Proper Handling Keeps Things Humming

"Perhaps the key behavior of the beekeeper," said Houck, "is to demonstrate respect for his or her charges." Clearly, a heavy hand can lead to painful pushback. Houck again asked session participants what other characteristics of the beekeeper could be applied to the workplace. Suggestions included:

  • Provide resources needed to create the end product. "Yes, for the bee, that's obviously honey," said Houck, "and you need to properly place the hive such that the bees can easily obtain necessary resources. Similarly, think about what your employees need to get their work done efficiently."
  • Let them do their thing without too much intervention. Remember, they naturally want to do a good job.
  • Refrain from taking too much honey. While you want to remove some honey from the hive periodically, if you take too much from the bees, they'll migrate elsewhere, said Houck. "Give employees some latitude, and they may surprise you with how well they perform."
  • Be the champion for the bees. Beekeepers can neither exert discipline nor teach bees how to do their jobs. Like staff leaders, they must keenly observe any obstacles or barriers that inhibit the bees' desire to produce.

"While most of us are used to the traditional leadership roles of the general or the coach," said Houck, "few employees have been conscripted into the university's service or are expected to perform at the levels of exceptionally skilled athletes."

In many ways, he said, "we may find the characteristics of gardeners and beekeepers much more useful in creating environments where people can really do their best."

NACUBO CONTACT Carole Schweitzer, senior editor, 202.861.2566 

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Spotlight: Community Colleges
All-Inclusive Effort to Stabilize Finances

Shrinking appropriations coupled with the pressure to raise tuition motivated leaders at Middlesex County College, Edison, New Jersey, to search for ways to improve operations and cut costs. Cost efficiencies seemed to be a constant discussion topic at most internal meetings, as well as those of trustees and board committees.

A number of our board members had strong financial backgrounds and were willing to participate in a structured review of the college's operations and costs. We formed the financial stability subcommittee, soon known as the "workgroup." Our mission was to recommend cost savings, increased efficiencies, and income-producing ideas—all consistent with the college's purposes.

The workgroup's membership included several board members, the college president, and the executive council, which is composed of staff members representing all academic and support areas on campus. Executive council involvement provided knowledgeable input from all areas and allowed for proper assignment of implementation responsibility. The outcomes of our work included a matrix format to use as a guide for undertaking projects scheduled across several fiscal years. Early results include expected direct savings and unanticipated efficiencies. The review and adoption of ideas across traditional lines of responsibility also results in employees working more cooperatively.

Working Ways

The workgroup held brainstorming sessions during which ideas were discussed and recorded, without regard to viability. These interactions provided participants with the opportunity to learn more about the inner workings, policies, and procedures of the college. It also clarified the kinds of ongoing cost-savings efforts and efficiencies already in place.

After several such meetings, we compiled a matrix of ideas grouped by area of responsibility and indicated whether they were one-time or recurring events. We thought developing the matrix would be the most challenging part of our endeavors, but prioritizing and identifying target dates proved much more time-consuming and difficult. 

Recommendation Refinements

Instead of embedding evaluation criteria into the matrix to dictate which ideas would receive priority to move forward, we selected projects that would represent various college areas, along with a mix of required costs and short- or long-term timelines.

Among the initiatives we selected to move forward were:

  • Review academic scheduling practices. This resulted in more-effective use of space and improved ongoing coordination between credit and noncredit areas.
  • Evaluate energy-purchasing consortia, on-campus conservation projects, and alternative-energy sources. Facilities and finance areas worked jointly on this analysis.
  • Consider fee schedules for appropriateness and adequacy. The academic and finance areas collaborated to revise fees and increase related revenue.

Second Guesses

Although the overall results of the workgroup's efforts were deemed successful, we did encounter difficulties during the process. As we discussed ideas, for example, we realized that things are often different when viewed at a detailed level. We eliminated several promising projects once we realized the costs and benefits were not advantageous to the college.

We also learned that our timelines were too ambitious. Staff struggled with regular workloads while doing the extra work of implementing the workgroup's selected initiatives.

Ultimately everyone felt that the results justified continuing the work. The results were a win-win, and we learned the value of working cooperatively on creative ideas to save the college money and time. We are currently investigating a revised mechanism to continue our cost-saving and efficiency efforts without overtaxing those involved in the work.

SUBMITTED BY Susan Perkins, vice president for finance and administration, Middlesex County College, Edison, New Jersey

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