Building a foundation for the next generation of Clemson leaders

May 23, 2018

May is always one of the most exciting times of the year on a college campus. It’s when we celebrate the accomplishments of another group of graduating students and look back fondly on the achievements of another year spent in service to our students, our Clemson family and the state of South Carolina.

In addition to the nearly 4,000 students who walked across the stage at Littlejohn Coliseum to get their diplomas and shake my hand last week, a select group of faculty and staff “graduated” this month from what has become our signature leadership development program. I couldn’t be more proud of them.

The second class of the President’s Leadership Institute (PLI) recently celebrated completion of its year-long immersion into the breadth of national higher education and local issues with a wonderful graduation luncheon. Befitting the magnitude of the occasion, we were fortunate to have one of South Carolina’s leading business executives, and a great Clemson supporter, Anita Zucker, CEO of the InterTech Group in Charleston, provide the keynote address to the 25 PLI graduates.

Among the many insights that Anita shared with the group was that “leadership is a process” and that lifelong learning is essential for all of us to reach our full potential. I couldn’t agree more, and PLI is one way that we have chosen to formalize the process of nurturing the next generation of senior leaders at Clemson – and throughout higher education.

Over the past two years, 50 of Clemson’s most talented employees from all disciplines and from various levels within the organization have received an intensive education into what it takes for an institution of our size and complexity to thrive. Every member of my executive leadership team, along with several deans and outside experts, shared their knowledge with PLI members.

The participants, who dedicate a full day – and in some cases two days – a month to the program, also learned from one another through a series of group exercises designed to facilitate teamwork and collaboration, and to hone their critical thinking skills. Our goal for PLI is that graduates leave the program with a greater appreciation of what it takes to keep Clemson a leader in higher education and that they gain knowledge and skills that will allow them to grow in their careers – whether at Clemson or elsewhere.

The results so far have been better than we could have hoped. Nearly three-quarters of the first PLI cohort have already experienced professional growth of some type, and we’re expecting similar results from our newly graduated group. Beyond that, the feedback we have received from participants has been extremely encouraging. Words like “transformational,” “wonderful” and “inspiring” have been used time and again to describe the PLI experience.

And, I’m convinced that the best is yet to come. The President’s Leadership Institute continues to evolve and improve under the leadership of Vice President and Chief of Staff Max Allen and PLI director Kyra Lobbins, and we have identified participants for next year’s class.

In my role as president, there is nothing more important than developing leaders so that we can continue to fulfill Thomas Green Clemson’s vision of Clemson as a “high seminary of learning.” I wanted to create a program that would not only identify future leaders but would also provide a transformational, immersive leadership experience; I am proud that it has grown to become a cornerstone of our work to create a world-class team and leadership culture at Clemson.

I’m inspired by the talent and commitment our PLI members have shown over the last two years, and know that Clemson’s future is in good hands, thanks to the great work these and all our employees continue to do every day.

Go Tigers!


P.S. If you’d like to learn more about PLI and its impact, please watch this short video.






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