Charles J. Dougherty Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

Celebrate success and you may surprise yourself in the process, says Charles Dougherty, president of Duquesne University. Every April,

the nationally recognized scholar asks his team of deans and directors for a list of their yearly accomplishments. And every May, he is

astonished when the responses come in. Though Dougherty employs a variety of communication tools to tap into the pulse of the university,

he is always surprised by the breadth of success that results from 2,700 creative employees and an annual budget of $205 million. Those

results reaffirm the mission and a collective sense of progress, Dougherty says, and he shares them at the school’s annual convocation to

close each year. Smart Business spoke with Dougherty about e-mail, Einstein and how to get input during strategic planning.

Be receptive to various forms of communication. We have a lot of communication

tools these days, everything from formal

memos to e-mail. E-mail has become quite

democratic in the sense that a sophomore

history major has no compunction in writing the president of the university and

unloading about what’s on his or her mind.

I’ll get reports of votes from a department meeting, or I’ll read the minutes of

a school committee on something and

begin to see where the drift of opinion is

going on certain topics.

I try to make myself present on campus. I literally walk around a great deal,

allowing people to stop me and tell me

what’s on their mind. It’s important to

the person who just told you something,

and it puts a real face on who we are.

People feel closer to the strategic direction of the university when they walk past

and think, ‘There’s the president,’ and particularly if they can stop and say, ‘You know

what? I was sorry to hear that we’re doing

X, Y and Z,’ or, ‘I was hoping that maybe we

would take this opportunity to do one, two

or three.’

Stick to the plan. Strategic planning is one

of my most important jobs. What’s

important is to make the plan real.

We have a detailed implementation

document. We know at any given time

who’s responsible for what. We have a

sense for the cost of the things we want

to achieve. We have timelines.

We revisit that on a regular basis. We

sit down and look at that, making sure

we’re still on board for achieving what

we wanted.

First of all, it reinforces the overarching

vision. Where are we trying to go? What

are we trying to achieve? The second

thing is, when you’re actually working on

the plan, and you can show people successes relative to the plan, there’s a real

sense of forward motion. People feel like

that’s what you said you were going to do.

Get input while planning. Many plans

begin as a shopping list: Everybody has an idea, and the ideas all get listed.

At one point (during the planning

process), we hadn’t made what I would

regard as hard decisions, which is to say,

prioritizing certain areas. No one wanted

to say, ‘My area was more important

than someone else’s area.’

So I asked everyone to give me a list of

the top 10 strengths of their programs.

That gave me then 100 strengths. I

reordered them and organized them, and

I showed that there were five or six

areas identified as strengths. Therefore,

they were university strengths.

From that, we took some areas and

said, ‘Over the next five years, we’re

going to emphasize ethics, we’re going to

emphasize leadership ...’

(It’s) democratic in a way. Everybody

had input. We got a long list of things

together but then had to make some choices about which were going to be priorities.

Don’t overrationalize. It was Einstein who

said that if we were fully rational, we’d

never make a decision — we’d always

wait another day hoping for more information to come in.

We can’t do that. Events will shape us if

we don’t make decisions. There comes a

point where you simply have to say, ‘I

think I understand enough. I think I’ve listened enough. I think I’ve heard sides of this, and a decision simply has to be made.’

You can’t paralyze yourself with trying

to get facts if a decision needs to be

made. You either make the decision, or

you lose the day.

Be receptive to criticism. If I’m moving in a

direction that is not likely going to work

out for what I want, then I have somebody

else who can tell me that and can do that

without fear of negative consequences.

No one likes to be told they’re making

a mistake, but a leader has to have people around them who are capable and do

that on a regular basis. In any complex

organization, every leader makes some


It starts with not overreacting when the

person brings you a problem, particularly

an unexpected problem and a bad one.

One of the things I learned from people I

believe were effective leaders was, when I

came in with a crisis, there wasn’t screaming, there wasn’t yelling and there wasn’t

blaming. There was cool, calm deliberation about how do we move out of this crisis and repair the situation.

Try to do that. Try to contain emotions

when there’s a problem of that sort. That

builds a kind of trust that allows somebody to say, ‘You know what? I told him

that last week, and we’re still friends. I

think I can tell him he’s making a mistake this week, and we’ll still have an

effective working relationship.’

Recognize success. There are so many

people doing creative things at various

levels that I find it useful to drop a handwritten note to somebody congratulating

them for something. Send them an e-mail.

Call (them) up and say, ‘I heard you

just published a new book. I’m looking

forward to seeing it. Congratulations,’ or,

‘You were named employee of the year.

I’m looking forward to acknowledging

you at the convocation.’

Those little acknowledgements to people mean a great deal.

HOW TO REACH: Duquesne University, (412) 396-6000 or