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

“My culture and style is one of respect and civility,” Warren says. “We’re not always going to agree on points of view on a matter, but we should all be respectful and civil in the discourse. So setting the stage for expectations of culture and style, I think, is very important.”

Setting the pace of change

Having begun to establish her style to her colleagues, her next challenge is to calculate the pace of change, which Warren calls the hardest piece of transition leadership. She learned in her previous position that it’s important to be patient with change, but not complacent.

While at Virginia Commonwealth, the president, who was in his second year of leadership at the institution, wanted to move forward with a new strategic vision. It involved moving the institution forward more as a research university. She says she and the president understood that to move that philosophical shift too fast would cause some anxiety, and it did.

“I think sometimes you do have to push the pace, but you also have to realize that individuals don’t change overnight, institutions don’t change overnight,” Warren says. “So that was a learning experience for me like none other that I had experienced.”

Setting the right pace for change means having a sense of how dramatic the change is going to be on the community.

“Thinking strategically, you look at where an institution currently stands and your vision for that institution and how large is that delta. The larger the delta, the slower the pace of change, because as I said, people don’t change overnight.

“People are drawn to an institution because of its culture. If you’re thinking about shifting its culture then you have to be patient with that process. If it’s fine tuning, then I think the pace can be much more rapid.”

Putting it all together

While becoming a global destination won’t be easy, Warren says she’s working with a healthy institution that’s well positioned for a bigger role.

“So the biggest part of that, then, is how do you best tell your story.”

Warren says she’ll work on telling Kent State’s story nationally to attract students to the city and university that are completing a transformation, realized through the recent downtown renovations that look to connect the campus and area businesses.

“I’ve seen the before pictures, and I’m certainly living in the after transformation. But I think this is a community and a university that has really come together, realizing that our best future is a shared future — a partnership future,” Warren says.

“So I think it’s the transformation of the city as well as the university in terms of being this very, very attractive place for creative and talented people. It’s a great college town now.”

Takeaways:

  • Visibility and accessibility show engagement.
  • Take the time to get to know stakeholders.
  • Be strategic when setting the pace of change.