THE BLOG
03/06/2014 12:01 pm ET Updated May 06, 2014

Manage by Wandering Around

Leaders of any college or university (or for that matter of any institution) need to be seen. Sitting behind a desk all day simply does not help get the job done.

Getting out of the office on occasion to see people on their "turf," to see and to be seen, lifts morale and encourages people to push themselves harder. It also gives a president a very different understanding of the college than can be formed in an office (and, of course, it makes irrelevant the fact that no one is walking into your office).

Wander around. I liked wandering because, aside from wanting to get to know the people working with me better, I wanted to see them in the setting that made them most comfortable. There was a big difference between meeting with them in my office or theirs because a president's office has a sense of formality that makes easy communication difficult.

I enjoyed wandering around, and I learned from the wandering. Of course, you had better be prepared for the occasional comment -- always offered jokingly -- that you apparently have nothing better to do. In fact, you do not. Knowing everything about your institution and knowing the people at "your" college are keys to getting the most out of yourself and them.

A "manage by wandering around" approach makes for a more informal way of dealing with constituencies and their problems. There are, of course, other ways of accomplishing that goal. Find the one that works for you because, ideally on an individual basis, you need to get to know the people with whom and for whom you work.

I loved having faculty and students over to the president's house. For faculty, I have to admit I found it difficult to break down barriers of formality. Over time, though, those barriers came down.

With students, barriers were never a problem. I had them over to the house for burgers, brats, and chili; however, when I settled on "Pizza with the Prez" gatherings, I found the format and menu that worked best.

The ultimate in managing by wandering around involved hikes with students and faculty to retrace the 75 miles the college's first student had to cover (I did not bother to tell anyone he rode in a cart) or canoeing 180 miles to New York City to kick off the college's bicentennial. For me there was not a better way to find out what was on the minds of those who walked or canoed with me -- or a better way to have some fun.

You (or your spouse) may not want to gather groups regularly in your home or you may not find adventure outings to your taste. If not, find some other way to break down formal barriers, since there is no single formula for success. Do what works for you, but do it. You will learn a great deal, others will learn a great deal about you, and you will enjoy the experience.

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