Beverly Warren talks change leadership as Kent State University’s new president

Warren has made it her style to be visible, which she says comes more from a personal frame of reference than emulating that of others.

“I’m centered in the belief that people matter, and that if they matter I need to engage with them and give them tangible ways to know that I value them,” she says.

Accessibility, however, is something she has to work at.

“You know, people are surprised when I say I’m a pretty strong introvert, but I so enjoy people. They say, ‘Well, that doesn’t make sense.’

“I enjoy people. I enjoy learning about people. I enjoy hearing their stories. I think I’ve always been a people person, and yet it also takes me some quiet time to recharge the batteries and do my own thinking and reflecting in a much more solitary way. So balancing that is a challenge for me.”

Building coalitions

When it came to getting to know the staff she’d be adopting in her new role, Warren says she scheduled meetings around each of the divisions and the vice presidents leading the divisions on the president’s cabinet. Those sessions began with one-on-one meetings to learn more about who each vice president is as a person as well as that person’s role in a particular position.

“That was the first hour. And then the next hour I asked to meet with key leaders in that vice president’s team because, again, my point of reference is we do the best work when we work together as a team and we all know the roles that we play and what we contribute to the greater good,” Warrens says.

Understanding who they are and conveying expectations is one thing. Earning the staff’s trust is another. To this end, a full-day cabinet retreat was held at the end of July.

“And that was the time when we had space to learn one another, learn kind of what we expect,” she says. “We just talked openly and honestly about expectations. I try to lead in as transparent a manner as I can, and I think that then builds trust.

“Trust doesn’t happen overnight, but I think beginning to talk with them individually and collectively, having the retreat, I think, is a way — the more time you spend with one another, and we have opportunities to interact, trust evolves.”

This isn’t the first time Warren has transitioned into a leadership role at an institution of higher learning. Through her experience, she says she’s learned that an important first step is articulating expectations for style, culture and initial goals.