Case Study – Higher Education – Transformational Leadership

Dr. Jerri Stelars became the president of her alma mater 20 years after graduating. This was her dream job and she was well prepared to lead this university due to a distinguished career in higher education administration. Most of her professional expertise was in fund raising and creating relationships with influential people who could help the universities where she worked. Her passion for her alma mater coupled with her professional experiences were critically needed for a once proud but now deteriorating university. Although this public university appeared tired, it was still known for providing its constituents quality service and an affordable education.

Initially, Dr. Stelars easily won people over with her relational leadership skills and obvious passion for her university. Dr. Stelars’s charisma, especially when relating one-on-one to people, was infectious throughout the university from the maintenance personnel to the trustees who oversaw the university. Her passion and focus was to re-create the university into an institution that would attract the best students and elevate the university from a regional university to a force that competed with prestigious universities on a national level. Dr. Stelars was also extremely effective in conveying to influencers her passion to rebuild the campus that had been neglected over the past 30 years. Funds began flowing into the university from many and different sources, both private and governmental, which she used to rebuild the campus into one of the most beautiful in the region.

Dr. Stelars was also instrumental in establishing needed and desired academic programs on campus. Due to internal state politics, the university was not able to offer several programs. Through Dr. Stelars’s leadership she was able to influence state legislators to allow her university to offer these programs. Dr. Stelars also worked with other, more prestigious universities within the state, to offer innovative join programs that filled a void in the university’s curriculum. Both of these accomplishments were favorably received by the people in the region, but with neutral enthusiasm by the faculty.

Early in her dealings with the trustees, Dr. Stelars experienced a situation where the trustees questioned her judgment. Since that experience, Dr. Stelars ensured that all information and all actions were thoroughly vetted to ensure she gained the outcome for the university she thought needed from the trustees. Through these successful actions and the visual rebuilding of the campus, Dr. Stelars was able to influence the trustees to grant her an extended contract that guaranteed her present contract for the next decade. The trustees offered Dr. Stelars the contract as a preventative measure to ensure Dr. Stelars would not leave the university for another, more attractive offer. After being granted a long-term contract, Dr. Stelars became more confident and demanding of her desires with those who worked with her, but still maintained superb relationships with the trustees and outside influencers.

Throughout her time as president, Dr. Stelars made significant improvements to the university campus, but it was done on her terms, especially after securing her extended contract. Her influence with the trustees ensured any dissenting views were either not heard or were marginalized. Faculty became confused regarding the future of the university. Many still believed that the university needed to provide for the needs of the people in that region while others thought that the mission was to compete on a national level. Upon close examination, one could not identify the values or the vision of the university as multiple sets of values existed. The vision was captured in a tag line that sounded great, but was difficult to interpret. When asked to explain the vision of the university, Dr. Stelars would describe a somewhat vague image of the future. Although still extremely popular with the trustees, students and other constituents, faculty and staff were becoming more disgruntled. During the difficult economic conditions during the later part of the first decade of the 21st century, the university employees received minimal or no pay raises, but there was wide speculation that Dr. Stelars received substantial pay raises as a result of her extended contract. Enrollments that initially grew rapidly during the early years of Dr. Stelars’ tenure became stagnate. However, what was occurring with enrollments at the university was almost universal with the other universities within the region.

Dr. Stelars continued as president of her beloved university. Many constituents still saw Dr. Stelars as extremely effective as the campus continued its structural renaissance. However, there are others who began to question if Dr. Stelars was the leader needed to create a pathway into the future for the university.

1. Which of the five fundamental practices according to the Kouzes and Posner model of leadership does Dr. Stelars best exemplify?

2. Is Dr. Stelars a transformational or transactional leader and why?

3. Which aspect of transformational leadership (idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, individualized influence and inspirational motivation) does Dr. Stelars best exemplify and why?

4. How could a life-time contract for a key leader effect the transformational process within an organization?

5. Is Dr. Stelars a pseudotransformational leader?

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