Leadership in tough times

Many times, good leadership is in the small things. There are two recent examples that set a positive tone in difficult times.

The first comes from Dr. Harris Pastides, who were installed a president of the University of South Carolina. Passing on the expected black tie dinner and usual pageantry, Pastides held an open "Pastides Palooza", with local bands and…..pizza. Total cost – around $13,000. The South Carolina government is whacking at an already minimalist budget (don’t believe Gov. Sanford’s running around proclaiming fiscal responsibility) so there was some grumbling – students activity fees are frozen and Pastides will have to implement more budget cuts shortly. But for a new university president, a community party was a much more symbolic and important act, and enabled many students to see and greet the new president.

 

The second was from Dr. Ray Greenberg, President of the Medical University of South Carolina. The budget cuts in state funding will impact only some areas of the university, which includes several schools (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health, etc) as well as a hospital. The cuts amount to almost $17 million, or 17.7% of the total state support (most of the revenue is generated through clinical care and research grants). Healthcare organizations are people intensive, so cuts had to be made. The biggest impact were in targeted areas and provided for four days furloughs. President Greenberg will voluntarily take eight days of leave, and some 300 high paid staff are also taking voluntary cuts.  Yes, he can absorb the income loss more so than most people effected – but he is doing it, and he will be working anyway. (As a practical matter, university presidents work seven days a week).

 

In addition to the press conference, Greenberg videotaped a Q & A discussion which is posted on the MUSC website. On top of that, MUSC also set up a special page on its website to post news, FAQs, money management tips, and so on.

 

In both of these examples, I see people who are taking real steps to carry forward in very difficult and emotional times. Installing a new university president is traditionally a big deal, a time for the academic robes to come out, fellow presidents to be welcomed and big donors to be courted. Pastides took a low cost affair and opened it up to more people, particularly students. On a day that should have been a time for him to celebrate his own achievement, he took a humbler, low key route. Greenberg and MUSC are taking steps to spread the pain – furloughs are spread out over several months that will start after the holiday. He, and the leadership, are taking voluntary pay cuts. Most importantly, they are trying to follow up with attempts to help employees through – steps that are outside their specific responsibility.

 

Both Pastides and Greenberg set a tone and example in their actions, and in both situations, these actions were highly visible. The image created is real, and while they will not make everyone happy, they will soften the blow and make their point real.

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