Leadership in the modern era

NNYB: How important to your success are those you surround yourself with?

COLLINS: It’s critical the role of any leader to surround yourself with people that fit the challenge. Currently, the dean of the school of business, Timothy Sugrue, is one of those people. Bringing people like that on is really important, it gives you even more freedom to take the work going on internally and bring it externally. Knowing that the university is growing internally in a world class way, he is a world class academic leader and he’s developing the campus internally with the expertise he brought from his experiences outside of the university.

NNYB: At some point you have to be willing to take a risk and realize it might not be successful.
There have been a lot of bold initiatives that you’ve headed, have you been thinking about new opportunities that are a bit outside the box?

COLLINS: What you need first is a vision and people that will buy into the vision. A strong leader. In my case, the campus I have adds a key element because many of them actually understand the notion of risk. They have been supportive and encouraging. Once you have a clear vision, the risk diminishes significantly. When the people understand why they’re doing it, you can challenge to fit the vision. If you look at all of the visions, motivations, commitments and initiatives that we have in isolation, they may not have the same impact but they are all very conducive and consistent to the vision. We really shouldn’t be benchmarked against any other institution. There isn’t another higher education region that exists that has the right imprint. If you lock yourself against a different institution, you’ll want to be like someone else. I think part of our success is we simply want to be Clarkson. Clarkson as a brand will be different from anyone else. We want each graduate to understand how to make responsible, sustainable work.

NNYB: As a leader, how do you provide a clear direction? When you took office 10 years ago, you said that the status quo won’t work.

COLLINS: Good leaders are role models. Over time, as we achieve successes, we can reference those milestones and we’re always talking about the way that everybody can. You have vision and then you point out ways that people are examples of that vision when they’re not even aware that they are. A faculty member who works with undergraduates in research class may not connect that with economic development but that same undergraduate may take that research class and develop a business model around the work he was thinking about in the lab.

NNYB: When you were inaugurated president, you said that Clarkson was poised to take its last steps to excellence. How many steps to excellence are there?

COLLINS: Excellence is a state of mind. I think the last step is understanding and self-recognition that impacts others and communicates what we are doing and letting other people understand and recognize that. That translates into a can-do, confident attitude. We have students that won a business competition for a $10,000 prize and they took out older entrepreneurs. When you think of innovation, creativity and sustainability, there are examples that show that we are excellent but now they are getting recognition for it. That gives them confidence to do more. The last step in my mind is internal and external recognition that allows that confidence.

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