Building a Charismatic Institution
College and university leaders typically focus on objectives, talent and skills, and financial resources when they develop strategic plans. Father Thomas C. Mathew, vice chancellor of Christ University in India, encourages these leaders to add another element to the list: charisma. “Higher education institutions in general, and Christian higher education institutions in particular, need to be charismatic institutions,” he said in a recent interview, drawing on the ideas of Ogba Obasi (Organization Theory, 1999). This means more than placing a charismatic leader at the helm – it requires participatory decision-making. “Being a charismatic institution is a process of empowering all the institutional members and creating space for each member’s growth in terms of abilities inherent and acquirable.” He urges institutions to avoid outsourcing in favor of “building people within” and ensuring that employees are multi-skilled.
Ambition, he finds, is a key ingredient of a successful plan. “A strategic plan needs to be ambitious if an institution wants to stay relevant and progress at this time in human history, when socioeconomic shifts – and, consequently, institutional sustainability – are difficult to predict at the micro level.” Father Thomas Mathew’s ambition was to build a team that could transform Christ College into Christ University – a goal achieved in 2008. He described highlights of that experience in his keynote speech at the United Board’s Strategic Planning and Resource Development (SPRD) Workshop, held on January 25- 26 in Bangalore. (A second India workshop was held in Kolkata on January 28-29.)
Ambition needs to be balanced with pragmatism. For an institutional leader and his colleagues, this means translating a strategic plan’s theoretical framework into practical, constructive steps; in other words, determining “how it needs to unfold to bring about the desired changes and achieve the goals.” As Father Thomas Mathew pointed out, “There should be clarity on short-term goals that will pave the way for long-term achievement.”
While the environment for higher education in Asia is increasingly competitive, Father Thomas Mathew believes colleges and universities can be generous with each other. “Sharing is a Christian call,” he said. “Since higher education is for the public good, colleges and universities should share their expertise.” Institutions should look for structured ways – workshops and training programs – and unstructured ways – facilitating visits – to share their ideas and models. “An institution can get inspired, or even evolve a model for itself, based on such sharing.”
Over many years of friendship, the United Board has been pleased to offer representatives of Christ University opportunities to offer and receive expertise, through the United Board Fellows Program, Asian University Leaders Program, Institute for Advanced Study in Asian Cultures and Theologies, and other programs.
This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Horizons.