Monday, September 21, 2009

University Leadership -- Diversity at the Top and Dartmouth

Dr. Jim Yong Kim has assumed the presidency of Dartmouth College and is bringing fresh ideas and a new energy to that Ivy League Institution. Dr. Kim graduated from Brown University, my alma mater, in 1982, and received a PhD and medical degree from Harvard University. He is a medical anthropologist, and the co-founder of Partners in Health, which supports health programs in poor countries. He left his position at Harvard for the Dartmouth presidency, something that has amazed many students. Dr. Kim was one of the subjects in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains.

The article,, in today's Boston Globe, captures beautifully the excitement surrounding Dr. Kim's presidency. Interestingly, Dr. Kim was born in South Korea, was on his high school's football team in Iowa and on Brown's volleyball team.

Students at Dartmouth are clamoring to meet him. He already has played golf with students at 5:30AM and a thousand students have lined up to shake his hand. He has handled delicate situations with great diplomacy, kindness, and skill. In giving advice to students on leadership he has said, People think leadership is standing up and giving orders but a big chunk of leadership is learning to be a follower, to have an understanding of what it's like to be of service to someone else. After one of his talks, students clamored to further talk to him and, come midnight, his aide was clearly exhausted. Dr. Kim's statement, I'm hanging out until all students are gone.

I was reminded of the Graduate Ceremonies last May, in which the Chancellor of UMass Amherst, Dr. Robert Holub, shook the hand of each and every degree recipient (which obviously took amazing stamina and even courage due to the swine flu concerns).

Leadership at the top matters and great leadership can make a tremendous difference in the lives of many. We wish the new leaders of universities and other complex organizations much success.