Presidential lesson in leadership provides insights into how Quinnipiac University operates

By on March 8, 2006

Dr. John Lahey is not a fan of Donald Trump’s leadership style, citing “The Donald” as an example of “leadership by personality.” Quinnipiac University’s president says, “Leadership needs to be more unselfish, less egotistical than Donald Trump.”

Lahey presented his insights on leadership in a program sponsored by the Carl Hansen Student Center and Student Leadership Development. About 50 people, including about 40 students, as well as several faculty members, attended the 6 p.m. March 7 program in the Clarice L. Buckman Theater. The student TV station, Q30, recorded the program for playback throughout the campus.

As president of Quinnipiac University, Lahey explained he is the chief executive officer (CEO) of an organization that has an annual budget of $200 million, heads a “cabinet” with six vice presidents, and says he delegates as much authority as he deems possible. “Leadership takes courage,” he said, adding that it is “something you are not born with, but can develop.”

Lahey says watching CEO’s is one way to learn about leadership -but he does not recommend Donald Trump as a role model. “What business is he in? The business of selling ‘The Donald’? What are his values? Just making money?”

According to Lahey, the keys to success for leadership involve having “ plan.and people.” Quinnipiac University has defined its values, has a vision of what it is and where it is going, developed a strategic plan, and has excellent people, according to Lahey.

Lahey said decisions at Quinnipiac University’s are made with emphasis on the overall vision and mission -not on the basis of his personal likes or dislikes. Noting that the annual budget process is underway, he said “We’d rather do fewer things, but do them better.We’d rather fund our higher priorities,” he explained. He also warned, “If you try to make everyone happy, you have a recipe for disaster.”. “If you want to be loved, get in another business. For love, I go to my 90-year old, mom, my wife, kids, and our dog.”

Quinnipiac is best known for its “professional schools,” and was founded “as a business school,” Lahey said. Its emphasis is on bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, not “research-based Ph.D programs.”

The strategic decision to fund six particular Division I sports teams (out of 20) was based on marketing considerations which Lahey described as improving “visibility” as the University competes against “some of the best academic institutions in the country.” He cited men’s and women’s basketball as being “the most visible.”

Lahey said he saw his first ever hockey game when he came to Quinnipiac. He said the sport is “strong” in New York and New England, and thus the men’s and women’s teams are a part of an effort to attract students from that region. Lacrosse helps the University in areas where that sport has high interest, notably the Mid-Atlantic States and the Washington, D.C., area.

Leaders need to find out what their weaknesses are and do something about them, Lahey observed. He said he “took finance and marketing courses” to improve his skills in those areas, and also worked on “polishing public speaking skills.” Lahey had shed his suit jacket before his presentation and provided the audience with copies of the outline for his unscripted speech.

Lahey cited a Quinnipiac alumnus as being one of the best CEO’s anywhere -Bill Weldon, ’71, heads New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson. “He puts his organization doesn’t depend on him…he develops people,” adding that Welden “could leave tomorrow” and his successor would probably come from within Johnson & Johnson. Welden joined Johnson & Johnson almost 35 years ago and is a member of the Quinnipiac University Board of Trustees.

Currently, Quinnipiac is considering a proposal to “go paperless” -eliminating files by using “imaging applications.” Lahey said it would cost “a million dollars over three years” and that this probably will come to fruition.

In a brief question & answer session after his presentation, Lahey was asked about what the “vision” was in connection with the University’s decision to install a “turf field.” He explained the million-dollar expenditure was because of the lacrosse program, and that the field hockey team would also benefit.

The final question was focused on co-workers as friends. He said supervisors should “limit to some extent” their “social interaction with those you supervise.” He noted decisions regarding friends should always be made “in the best interests of the organization,” noting that sometimes people may “do for friends what they do not necessarily deserve.” Earlier in his presentation, In regard to the budget process, Lahey said “friendship” and even “persuasiveness” should not be factors in decision making.

After the program, a recent Quinnipiac graduate who now works at the University, was asked, “Think you’ll follow in President Lahey’s footsteps?” His answer, “I wish!”


About Adjunct Associate Professor Ke