Helping leaders make an impact

September 17, 2019

By President Jim Clements

I had many great mentors in my life – teachers, coaches, professors, community leaders and business leaders to name just a few.  However, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski was the first person who ever told me that I was going to be a college president. Dr. Hrabowski is the long-standing president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, my alma mater, and I was 31 years old when he said that to me. At the time, the thought of being a college president had never even crossed my mind. I wanted to be a professor, which was (and still is) my dream job. But Dr. Hrabowski saw potential in me, and as one of my mentors, he helped me develop, grow and achieve that potential. Many other mentors played key roles in my development as well.

President Clements speaks to participants in the President's Leadership Institute.

President Clements speaks to participants in the President’s Leadership Institute.

That is what I want to do with the President’s Leadership Institute (PLI). We started PLI to identify faculty and staff who have the potential to become great leaders and to offer them the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and to learn more about what it means to be a leader in higher education today. We are now starting the fourth year of PLI with a cohort of 25 faculty and staff, who will attend monthly sessions designed to support personal and professional development, critical thinking and communication and help them learn about how they can lead within the Clemson community. Participants are selected based on nominations from the college deans, the provost and vice presidents across the university.

One of the things I hope they learn is that leadership is not a position. Leadership is about action, and it is about serving others. My hope is that not only will our PLI participants develop their own skills and learn more about themselves, but that they will also pass along what they learn to their colleagues, creating a ripple effect across our campuses.

One example of this is Deon Leggette, Midlands District director for Clemson Extension, who completed PLI in 2017. Deon took what she learned in PLI and created the Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative, modeled after PLI and created specifically for her colleges across Extension. I know that not everyone who completes PLI will have the resources to launch a program for their entire division, but I encourage them to share what they are learning in whatever way they can.

To that end, several members of this year’s PLI cohort will be sharing their thoughts and reflections on the program in a monthly series of articles to be posted on social media and online. These articles will allow everyone to get a glimpse into the different topics we cover in PLI, and hopefully people can take away something from each article that they can apply in their own jobs.

Our 2019-2020 PLI cohort had their first meeting a few weeks ago, and I am excited to start this journey with them. I am also excited about this new outlet that will allow them to share the impact of this program with all of our faculty and staff.

I have never forgotten my conversation with Dr. Hrabowski that got me thinking about my own potential as a leader or the mentorship he and others have provided to me to help me get to this point in my career. Part of my responsibility as a leader is to pay that forward and help others realize their own potential as leaders for Clemson. PLI is one way that I am proud to help carry on that legacy of mentorship.