When Leadership Goes Wrong: Implications for Effective Leadership Practices for HBCUs

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Research on effective leadership practices in challenging and fragile environments abound and clarion calls for visionary leaders to lead historically Black colleges and universities are front and center in media coverage as well as the conversations of alumni and supporters. However, scant research exists which combines the identification, application, as well as evaluation of appropriate leadership strategies for the unique challenges HBCUs present. While presidents, chancellors, and governing boards are often credited (and blamed) for significant leadership decisions at American colleges and universities, far more often it is the work of cabinet- and director-level leaders which leads to the results that should be evaluated most closely. Individuals in these positions (e.g. deans, directors of enrollment management and admissions, chief financial/information/advancement officials) rarely achieve much spotlight or receive external scrutiny.

In this chapter, three individuals reflect on their leadership decisions, experiences, and results in their cabinet- and director-level positions at an HBCU. In examining their application of leadership theory in this setting, they discuss leadership theories and reflect on the results of their application. Using autoethnographic reflection to recall, analyze, and evaluate the results of these leadership theories critically, the authors aim to reveal whether or not these approaches—oft suggested by business and higher education theorists—are valuable to the work of HBCU executive leaders.

While the results are mixed, what emerges is a narrative that is useful in and of itself as well as a set of practices the authors contend are crucial for successful leadership at HBCUs. The known and accepted metrics typically associated with growth and success—for example, increased enrollment, fundraising success, and graduation rates—only reveal a narrow view of leadership evaluation. Robust reflection and praxis, in coordination with evaluation of key metrics, yield fruitful data to determine which leadership practices are most useful for HBCU leaders, and why in some cases even these leadership approaches are less than successful.


University Advancement



Publication Title

Examining Effective Practices at Minority-Serving Institutions: Beyond a Deficit Framing of Leadership