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Strategic Leadership: Integrating Strategy and Leadership in Colleges and Universities (Review)

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Colleges and universities are idealized-if not always ideal-communities. At their best, they strive to live up to values centered on teaching and learning, a commitment to the worth of human individuals, and an affirmation of the importance of the lifelong developmental journey from ignorance to wisdom. Those of us who are privileged to lead such institutions could do much worse than embrace Morrill's vision of the end-and his nuanced treatment of the means to attain that end-toward which our efforts should always be directed. 



The posting below is a review by Philip A. Glotzbach of the book: Strategic Leadership: Integrating Strategy and Leadership in Colleges and Universities, by Richard L. Morrill. The review appeared in Planning for Higher

Education. 37(3): 56-58. Copyright © 1998-2009 by Society for College and University Planning ( Reprinted with permission.Planning for Higher Education book reviews appear at:(


Rick Reis

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Strategic Leadership: Integrating Strategy and  Leadership in Colleges and Universities (Review)


Colleges and universities are strikingly bifurcated organizations. They consist, on the one hand, of administrative divisions that function (for the most part) in ways reminiscent of corporate hierarchies. On the other hand, at their core are academic divisions that operate according to quite different principles. Academic departments and programs comprise faculty members who necessarily work with high degrees of autonomy and, at best, experience only episodic formal institutional oversight. These differences in structure can promote divergent organizational cultures characterized by alternative views of mission and values. Moreover, because of their central role in determining the nature of the curriculum, members of the faculty

legitimately expect a significant voice in institutional governance. In short, colleges and universities represent complex, loosely coupled organizations (Perrow 1984) that employ various forms of collaborative governance in which decision making is distributed among different stakeholder groups-groups that frequently regard those institutions from multiple, overlapping, and not always fully congruent perspectives.

Ideally, involving a community of smart people, working from diverse points of view, in collaborative decision making should give an institution the benefit of many good minds and ensure that important proposals are subject to intense scrutiny before being implemented. In this context, it is a primary function of administrators-and, most especially, the president-to bridge the internal gaps, provide leadership that is collaborative and inclusive, and still ensure that strategic thinking effectively translates into action. But precisely how are presidents and other academic administrators to accomplish these tasks? More specifically, how can academic leaders help these many constituencies understand one another's points of view and,

ultimately, come together around a shared vision that both unifies and gives meaning to their actions?

In Strategic Leadership, Richard Morrill takes up these many-sided questions. The result is an intelligent, insightful, and practical treatise on a timely and timeless topic. Drawing upon his 19 years' experience as a college and university president at three different institutions (with his final 10 years at the University of Richmond), as well as his extensive reading of the leadership literature, Morrill has produced an elegantly written guide for college and university administrators. His background in religious studies and ethics enables him to locate his quite pragmatic discussion of leadership in the academy within a broader and deeper theoretical framework of human agency: "the notion that humans are in charge of their own conduct and determine the meaning and direction of their lives through the enactment of their values and beliefs" (p. xiii). Using strategy as his central organizing concept, Morrill argues that it is the administrator's primary responsibility to facilitate the "various forms of organizational sense-making and sense-giving that

depend on a process of mutual influence between leaders and those led" (p. xiii). Most generally, therefore, strategic leadership designates the use of the strategy process as a systematic method of decision making that integrates reciprocal leadership into its concepts and practices. Strategy is not just a tool of management used by leaders who hold positions of authority but is as well a method of interactive leadership that clarifies purposes and priorities, mobilizes motivation and resources, and sets directions for the future. (p. xi)

In recent years, the universe of leadership literature has seen many attempts to ground discussions of management and administration in larger theoretical contexts. In my opinion, Morrill's book represents the most thoughtful and successful exemplar of this approach.

Part I of Strategic Leadership considers both the challenges and opportunities that attend leadership in the academy. As characterized previously, colleges and universities complicate and problematize the exercise of administrative authority. Morrill acknowledges that an academic leader's most important forms of influence derive not from the administrative powers inherent in one's position-even that of the presidency-but rather from the platform it provides, enabling one to function as an "intellectual and educational partner with the faculty" (p. 25). Especially for presidents, an administrator's bully pulpit affords one the opportunity to shape broad institutional narratives and "interpretative frames" or "paradigms" and so provides the real power of that office. In saying this, Morrill aligns himself with other authors (for example, Bennis 2006), who recently have recognized the centrality of narratives as key leadership tools for shaping institutional culture. At the same time, Morrill notes that authority in the collaborative environment of the academy also depends crucially upon the character of the office-holder and upon the widespread perception that he or she embodies and lives up to key institutional values (most importantly, perhaps, the value of respect). Together, these two components-the ability to frame issues and articulate institutional values through compelling narratives and personal integrity-enable administrators to promote a sense of common purpose and shape the strategic trajectory of their complex institutions.

At the same time, despite the importance of what we might term "conceptual leadership," Morrill also acknowledges the limits of a priori strategic thinking. Referencing, for example, the work of Cohen and March (1986) on bounded rationality and decision making, he notes that in the real world of academic leadership, institutional goals might be "seen more as exploratory hypotheses to be tested than as rigid objectives to be achieved" and that "our goals might arise more from our actions than the reverse" (p. 40). Indeed, much of the utility in Morrill's treatise comes from his ability to link the more abstract dimensions of leadership (epitomized in strategic planning) with its pragmatic dimensions in management, financial planning, and the like. Thus the largest portion of this book-Parts II and III-consists of chapters with titles such as "Strategic Governance: Designing the Mechanisms and Tools of Strategy," "Strategies: Initiatives, Imperatives, Goals, and Actions," "Strategic Leadership in Context: From Academic Programs to Financial Models," and "Implementation: From Strategic Leadership to Strategic Management."

In his final section, Part VI, Morrill returns to more abstract reflections on "The Limits and Possibilities of Strategic Leadership." There he acknowledges that the "success of the process [of strategic leadership] depends [ultimately] on conditions that it cannot provide for itself" (p. 248). The latter include "a fundamental consensus about the values that the organization exists to serve," as well as a "foundation of basic goodwill and a modicum of trust" (p. 248). If these foundations are not sufficiently robust, Morrill says, then it may be necessary to defer the more strategic work in favor of attending to their repair. True enough. But, as Morrill also knows, the conditions in any organization are never perfect. Moreover, working to provide conditions necessary for collaboration and effective shared governance is one dimension of effective leadership. Indeed, practicing effective strategic leadership in all its facets, as Morrill describes them, may, over time, be the best way to align institutional values and increase the quotient of trust and institutional goodwill.

Aristotle believed that it simply was not feasible for a young person to study ethics-that the serious investigation of the deepest questions pertaining to norms of human behavior required a wellspring of lived experience, without which discussions of virtue or practical wisdom simply could not gain traction. Whatever the merits of this position with regard to teaching ethics, it most certainly is true of the serious study of leadership. Accordingly, the primary audience for this book comprises sitting presidents and other academic administrators, as well as those who are actively exploring the possibility of attaining such positions. However, this book could also prove useful to leaders in other fields who today face increasing pressures to embrace a more collaborative and inclusive style of management. It will appeal most of all to those for whom theory truly

does inform practice. Morrill provides enough philosophical meat to satisfy the appetite of anyone who finds meaning in such connections and probably too much for someone who is impatient with philosophical


In sum, there is much here to benefit administrators at virtually any stage of their career. Indeed, any person with the intellectual gravitas to lead a serious academic institution-whether at the level of academic dean, vice president, or president-should find this book engaging, helpful, and wise on multiple levels. And in places, moreover, Morrill's prose rises to the inspirational:

As integral strategic leadership takes hold in a college or university, the values that it serves and the vision that it offers move to center stage. Conflicts and distractions over protocols and position are relegated to the wings. So engaging is the educational task of transforming human possibilities, so absorbing is the quest for learning, so compelling is the errand of meeting human needs, that people experience the powerful norms of a community that serves a magnificent common cause. In such a community it becomes nearly impossible to draw sharp lines between those who lead and those who follow. There is more than enough work to go around, and more than enough responsibility to be shared by different individuals and groups in different

ways at different times. (p. 267)

Colleges and universities are idealized-if not always ideal-communities. At their best, they strive to live up to values centered on teaching and learning, a commitment to the worth of human individuals, and an affirmation of the importance of the lifelong developmental journey from ignorance to wisdom. Those of us who are privileged to lead such institutions could do much worse than embrace Morrill's vision of the end-and his nuanced treatment of the means to attain that end-toward which our efforts should always be directed.


Bennis, W. 2006. The End of Leadership: Exemplary Leadership is Impossible Without Full Inclusion, Initiatives, and Cooperation of Followers. In Contemporary Issues in Leadership, 6th ed., eds. W. E.

Rosenbach and R. L. Taylor, 129-42. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press.

Cohen, M. D., and J. G. March. 1986. Leadership and Ambiguity: The American College President. 2nd ed. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Perrow, C. 1984. Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. New York: Basic Books.