05/22/2013 06:44 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

Be Loyal: To Those Who Work With You and to the College

Loyalty should be valued above almost everything else. No -- not more than honesty -- but more than any other trait I can think of.

We all want bright, hardworking, trustworthy people around us. However, we should want, more than anything else, someone with whom we would gladly share a foxhole.

Just as we want people to be loyal to us, we need to be loyal to them. Loyalty can take different forms. To me, it meant backing my staff in conversations with board members and trying to advance the careers of those who did their jobs well.

Over the years, I had two kinds of bosses: those who were quick to help me with my career and one who tried to hold me back because he felt there was more I could do for him. When I found out he had sabotaged me for a position I wanted, I told him I would work for him for another year. In exchange, I wanted, as he had promised before, to have his support for my next job, and I told him I would leave at the end of the year in any case. Although he again reneged on his promise to support me in my search, I got the job I wanted, which happened to be my first college presidency.

I promised myself I would never hold back anyone who wanted to rise to the next level. In fact, I constantly encouraged those around me to reach for the next professional rung, so much so I was jokingly accused by one colleague of trying to force her out. In a way, I was. I was convinced the position (a college presidency) was good for her, and I also believed it was good for the institution at which we both worked because, if prospective job applicants saw people moving up the ladder, they would want to work at the institution even more.

The loyalty to the people with whom you work is always tempered, though, by the greater loyalty to the institution. Just as I believe administrators and board members cannot really be friends, so I think friendships between a president and others on campus are difficult.

Relationships were strained more than once when I had to make a decision that negatively affected a colleague with whom I had a close relationship. In baseball, the tie goes to the runner; for a president, there are no ties in personnel matters (at least there shouldn't be) -- the institution always wins.

Fortunately, in each case where feelings were bruised, the relationship was quickly healed and strong friendships were easily developed -- after I left the presidency. Having that friendship while president, though, was a different matter.

You can have good relationships as a president; you can't have friendships. If you want friendship, look to your spouse and to friends outside the institution or, as Harry Truman said, get a dog.