06/11/2014 11:28 am ET Updated Aug 11, 2014

Embrace Informality

College presidents, like presidents everywhere, tend to think too much of themselves. They -- and anyone aspiring to be a president -- should avoid doing so at all times.

I was 38 when I became a college president. Perhaps because I was fairly young, I insisted on everyone calling me by my first name.

Everyone did, with the exception of my secretary. She just could not get herself to do so, not even when five years later, while still working with me, she became my son's godmother.

Of course, not everyone agreed with my approach. My wife hated the idea. As I told her, though, I was only a college president, not the president of the United States. Respect should be earned, not -- except in formal situations -- expected.

I knew my approach was right for me; I also knew it made being president more difficult. While I believed the informality of a first-name approach made for a more relaxed working atmosphere, I also recognized the challenge this approach presented when I had to shift gears. For instance, when something had to be done quickly, it was harder to get people to "jump" than it would have been had I employed a "Mr. President" approach at all times.

Most presidents probably would disagree with my stance; most would-be presidents should consider it. It makes for a more relaxed environment for all. Since work should be fun, why not try informality?

By the way, things do change over time. Whereas students called me by my first name in my early presidential years, the "Mr. President" title increasingly was used as the years wore on in my second presidency. I did not necessarily like the change, but I accepted it as part of the "aging" process.

You can always reverse course if this approach does not work for you. My bet, though, is you will find it does work -- for you and for those working with you.