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Vision of Visions: An exploratory study of the role college and university presidents play in developing institutional vision Open Access

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ABSTRACTThis qualitative research explores how college and university presidents engage in the process of developing formal institutional vision. The inquiry identifies roles presidents play in vision development, which is often undertaken as part of strategic-planning initiatives. Two constructs of leadership and institutional vision are used to examine key variables such as vision development and the college presidency.In-depth, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 10 presidents representing private and public institutions that have been or are being transformed. These interviews revealed 21 findings arrayed as: 1) seven organizing modalities, 2) five presidential roles, 3) seven role-based success factors and 4) two issues concerning balancing ownership of vision between presidents and stakeholders in shared-governance environments. Many of the presidents developed formal institutional visions narrowly and on their own, but then undertook more inclusive processes to finalize their visions, socialize them through their organizations and integrate them into strategic planning. A related finding is that, despite pressures to engage in vision development with a broad spectrum of their communities, presidents are routinely asked to provide their visions to trustees and others during job recruitment. Other findings include confirmation that visioning is generally part of strategic-planning exercises. Presidents often think in terms of what this study labels visionary intent, identified here as the combination of formal vision, objectives and strategies. Presidents also report relying on outside experts to play roles in visioning and strategic planning. Some presidents also spoke of balancing the need to encourage creativity and ambition among those engaged in the process with a responsibility to protect their institutions against misguided or even dangerous visions. Numerous implications for both practice and theory emerged from this research. These include how essential it is for presidents to understand the cultural, political, historical, financial and operating contexts of their institutions prior to embarking on visioning. This includes awareness of the dynamics and visioning efforts of their immediate predecessors. The presidents ultimately chose different courses of action to develop vision, though they all shared many best practices. In theoretical terms, this reflects an interesting Contingency Leadership approach to visioning in Complexity Leadership environments marked by the considerable Shared and Servant Leadership characteristics of shared governance.

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