What is visionary leadership? Dr. Mildred Garcia, President of California State University, Dominguez Hills, insisted that we all have the capacity to be visionary, but some just dream while others lead. In her current position as the first Latina president in the California State University system, she began developing her vision for Dominguez Hills by listening to others on campus. She sought out the leaders, but also those who were not vocal, even her critics. “It’s important to hear all voices before setting a collective path,” she told those assembled.
Dr. Garcia went on to describe visionary leadership as a slow process marked by excellent communication and a series of deliverables. “You have to examine results, hold people accountable, and make sure there are other leaders waiting in the wings.”
During her tenure at Dominguez Hills, she has eliminated the institution’s $2.8 million structural deficit and positioned the institution to meet, and even exceed, enrollment targets for the first time in eight years. Despite fiscal challenges resulting from the current economic downturn, she has managed to retain tenure-track faculty and staff, and even to institute a number of new programs designed to support faculty research and increase the number of minority students entering the STEM fields. What has she learned in this process? She offered 10 lessons for would-be visionary leaders:
- Work collectively. Involve everyone.
- Focus on the future. Challenge the status quo.
- Care enough to take your institution through tough struggles.
- Find ways to reward faculty and staff for innovation.
- Keep score. Measure change and reward results.
- Crank up your communication efforts.
- Expect casualties. Some will not want to join your efforts.
- Orient, educate, and provide professional development.
- Create and allow spaces for innovation.
- Celebrate accomplishments.