Category: Features

What makes a leader? What are qualities and skills a person needs to have in order to be a successful leader? What does a strong leader look like? If there is one person who can answer those questions, it’s Bob Smith.

Smith is special adviser to UT President Joe DiPietro for talent and leadership development. He has served in this role since January 2017, following 19 months as interim chancellor at UT Martin.

Smith was dean of the UT Martin School of Arts and Sciences from 1987 to 1999, and in that period co-created the WestStar Leadership Program and served as its executive director for 10 years. In 1999, he began serving as provost and later president of Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania before retiring in 2012 as president emeritus.

Beyond his personal experience, Smith is a nationally recognized leadership development specialist who has taught in university-sponsored executive development programs across the country.

“Leadership means you have successfully inspired change through the actions of others,” Smith said. “The difference between leadership and management is that you have inspired people through a vision for a better university, not just focused on processes. An inherent change occurs when you’ve successfully inspired a group.”

Smith said leaders need to hold a vision of what the organization ought to be. But how does this vision come to life? He thinks being a leader takes an open mind and willingness to hear others’ opinions, even critical opinions.

“Good leaders focus on diversity of ideas, and that diversity can be leveraged to achieve a vision,” he said. “Strong leaders also understand that there is no one solution to a problem and know that plans often need to be adapted to achieve their goals.”

Smith is using his knowledge and leadership expertise to help train the newest group of potential UT leaders through the UT Executive Leadership Institute. 

The new training program targets employees currently serving in leadership roles with potential to become deans, provosts, chancellors and presidents. The Executive Leadership Institute offers special development plans, including professional executive coaching, mentoring, experiential learning and six, two-day leadership sessions throughout a 12-month period.

It is estimated that 40 percent of executive leaders in the UT system will be eligible to retire in the next five years—that leaves leadership holes to fill for about 100 positions.

With a succession plan in place, Smith hopes the University will be able to identify strong leaders for years to come.

“Finding qualified leaders is much more than a search,” he said. “It’s finding those individuals who can inspire those around them. And then take the organization to the next level of success.” 

More information about the institute is available at https://president.tennessee.edu/executive-leadership-institute/.

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