Discussion and Analysis of leadership styles in three American universities



This study compares the organizational and management styles of Harvard University, Stanford University, and Yale University. The objective is to determine the impact of different management structures and styles on the level of effectiveness in the management of the universities. The study begins with the assumption that the management styles of the three universities impact differently on the processes, systems, and performance at the universities (Davies, B & West-Burnham 2003, p 33) It would be important to consider the various factors that determine the levels of efficiency in the management of educational institutions with particular reference to the mentioned universities. The theoretical framework of this study will anchor on various theories of organizational management. The theories shall be considered in terms of how they affect matters of policy and practice of management in the identified institutions.

Case reviews on matters of educational management have revealed changing trends in leadership and management across the globe (Bush, 2010, p. 45). There is evidence of a determined shift from the traditional systems of leadership and management, which were more rigid to the current ones that seem to be more flexible. The traditional systems mainly involved a vertical structure where the leadership was at the top and made important policy and administrative decisions that affected the operations at all levels of the universities administration (Bush, 2010). Educational institutions that adopted exclusivist policies of leadership favored this system. The current systems have evolved to embrace horizontal structures of leadership, in which policy matters and decision-making are handled at multiple points of the organization’s structure. Such developed kinds of leadership and management entail some aspect of devolution in which power is distributed evenly across various academic institutions. Both systems have important strengths and weaknesses.

The increasing clamor for liberties and the advocacy for rights of the minorities have had significant impact on the levels and nature of leadership in American universities (Bush & Coleman, 2000). Gender and ethnicity are some of the factors that have been brought within the umbrella of the management and leadership structures of American universities. Such leadership styles have impacted positively on the nature of leadership by embracing certain qualities that are essentially aimed towards responding to the call for harmony in the processes of leadership. Proper management techniques require constant attention to the interests of stakeholders in ways that multiply the importance of normal discourse.

One of the advantages of the top-down leadership structures and management style includes quick decision-making processes (Morrison, Briggs & Coleman, 2012). The leaders make decisions without much consultation, which saves time and affects positively on the speed and efficiency of processes. In some cases, such styles of management feature less bureaucratic challenges since fewer people and fewer processes are involved in the decision-making processes. On the other hand, the same systems are notable for lack of motivation in the lower cadres of management because other people in the organization are not involved in making important decisions within the organization (Walker & Dimmock, 2005). According to theorists of educational leadership and management, organizations and departments with devolved decision-making processes experience higher levels of employee motivation as compared with those that feature centralized systems of decision-making.

Separate studies have shown the existence of a significant association between job-related stress and organizations, which feature centralized systems of government. The same studies also indicated that the job-related stress relates inversely with devolved systems of administration. The nature of devolved systems of organization is that they tend to empower the work force by engaging them actively in the processes of management (Wallace & Hoyle, 2006). The employees at all levels become active participants in the organizational processes. Such systems play an important role of developing the skills and talents of the organization. It is important to consider the fact that some of the issues that relate to the processes of management relate essentially to the dynamics and differences in the systems of leadership (Burton, Smith & Brundrett, 2003).

Another advantage of educational leadership that adopts devolved and horizontal structures of management is that they tend to experience higher levels of upward mobility as compared to those that adopt rigid and vertical systems of leadership. This is because the devolved systems allows the employees to exercise their unique talents and skills in ways that promote them within the management ranks. It would be important to consider the many issues that relate to management as a totality of the various responses of internal and external factors. Generally, the manifestation of the issues of administration in public universities depends most entirely on the manner in which the administrative structures engage the staff in matters of administration.

Historical Changes in Management Styles

The evolution in the leadership and management styles of American universities can be traced from the seventeenth century to the modern age. Early institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard reflected simple management and leadership styles, as they had not evolved complex processes in terms of structure and courses. Few undergraduates enrolled and the range of courses on offer was generally small (Mukhopadhyay, 2005). The curriculum of the universities was simple as most of the courses revolved around liberal arts. Towards the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the universities underwent rapid expansion in terms of the number of courses, the volume of undergraduate enrolment, and the volume of activities.

A consistent surge in the student population and a rapid increase in the number of courses made it necessary for the universities to undergo some structural shifts in terms of management and leadership. There arose the need to expand the management structure in order to accommodate the pressure brought about by the changes. There was also an evident shift from the religious ambience of the universities to more secular institutions. During this period, the universities were largely managed by the states and religious institutions or their affiliates (Gamage & Pang, 2003). Another feature of these universities lay in their conservative nature. The changes that followed from the early parts of the nineteenth century to the twentieth centuries mainly revolved around the transition from religious institutions to secular institutions.

The changes demanded a shift in leadership that would respond appropriately to the emerging realities. These changes happened in the course of centuries and decades to the present day systems that are mainly run along more flexible and devolved systems. The earlier systems of management were synonymous with strict university presidents who presided over the entire administration without ceding power to other organs of the universities. The university presidents presided over administrative, developmental, disciplinary, and financial aspects of the institutions. The management and leadership styles at the time were highly centralized. Consequently, the institutions suffered significant shortage of innovation, competitive leadership, lack of transparency and accountability, and general managerial ineptitude.

There were also high levels of inefficiencies since no standards were used to measure the amount of success or challenges that faced the institutions of higher learning. The articulation of the principles of management and the need to increase the levels of efficiency in the system remained a key concern for policy makers and education theorists of the time. However, there resulted some significant change in the management towards more inclusive and responsive leadership systems that responded to the needs of the stakeholders.

Changes in management and leadership have brought significant advantages in the field of leadership as more institutions seek to revamp their systems in order to replace them with more democratic and efficient systems. The new realities and changes have necessitated the separation of power among various departments for the purposes of efficiency and easy management of the institutions of higher learning. In general, the differentiation of the roles of administration and leadership at the institutions has been made possible by the phenomena of specialization, which require various people to align themselves to different areas that align with their areas of specialization. On this score, the running and management of the universities has changed significantly to mirror the growth and differentiation of the structures within the institutions.

Harvard University

Since 1632 when it was founded, Harvard College has undergone various structural and managerial changes in response to the internal and external forces at the different times of its development (Harvard University, 2012). The changes included the changes in the objectives and mission of the university including the roles and courses that were offered at the institution. Over the times, the university has continued to evolve in various ways to conform to the needs of the stakeholders and the changes in policies and strategic goals. The different presidents at the institution brought with them various changes in terms of management and leadership styles (Harvard University, 2012). Historical records show that the various changes brought about significant changes in the institution. Years following its establishment witnessed a gradual expansion of its curriculum from the initial concentration of medical courses to other areas including humanities and natural sciences.

The management and leadership styles of various presidents of the institution corresponded with various results, strategies, and policies at the institution. Some of the notable personalities who rendered exceptional leadership to the institution include Charles William Elliot, Lawrence Lowell, Nathan Pusey, and Derek Bok (Harvard University, 2012). Each of these presidents had their own unique managerial styles that reflected on their key concerns and priorities at the institution. Academic theorists contend the management and leadership styles are adopted in line with the organization’s objectives. Leaders who wish to achieve rapid developmental results will tend to adopt vertical management and leadership systems.

The leadership of Charles William Elliot focused mainly on increasing the number and variety of courses on offer at the institution. Elliot also presided over the changing of the recitation method of teaching with the lecture system. These changes were important as they marked the beginning of a fresh culture at Harvard. This new system of teaching is often attributed to the remarkable levels of quality and success, which have continued to attend to Harvard’s academic endeavors across the times. However, Lawrence Lowell raised the university to the status of scholarship. His methods emphasized on the need to engage the systems and structures in ways that could spur academic excellence and practical application of the skills acquired.


In order to achieve these changes, Lowell adopted a participatory approach in which the various heads were invited to tender their contributions to the discourse of leadership. He adopted a consultative approach that brought on board various academic experts who made various contributions that worked in harmony towards the attainment of the goals of scholarship. In general terms, it might be argued that some of the challenges facing the academic world often relate to the issues of balance and managerial support in ways that operate within the general framework of academic excellence.

The trend in management and leadership at Harvard has often reflected the goals and policies of the respective presidents. Some of the management styles are made to improve academic performance as a specific goal. Other issues that have cropped up on the account of leadership involves the need to revamp systems in ways that would spur higher motivational levels and infrastructural development. The developmental goals at Harvard have been vast and varied. The various leadership styles adopted at the institutions are designed to capture the essence of change as brought about by the motivating factors of the leadership styles. It would be appropriate to consider these aspects of leadership in comparison with Yale University.


Challenges facing the leadership and management style at Harvard is that the liberal and democratic structures could give room to the free reign of risky policies that could hamper the course of development. There is usually a higher element of risk involved in such systems as compared to the other forms of leadership.

Yale University

The establishment of Yale University in the eighteenth century was meant to be a response against the incipience of secular influences at Harvard College (Yale University, 2012). The founders of Yale were dissatisfied with the kind of leadership that was conducted at Yale University because of what they feared was an erosion of the formerly religious leaning organization to secular influences. As such, Yale was created to reflect a rigid framework with a vertical form of management where the president wielded significant powers and had direct influence over matters of policy and every day running of activities.

Over the times, Yale remained a rigid organization that depended on exclusive systems of the management in order to safeguard it from possible threats of foreign influences (Yale University, 2012). The systems were organized in ways that reflected the strict religious philosophy that underpinned its operations. Yale strict management styles has favored it in various respects and remains one of the most powerful influences that determine the performance and trends of leadership of the institution.


Yale’s vertical style of management has made it possible for the party to retain a conservative organizational culture that promotes order and stability at the institution (Yale University, 2012). Other academic experts contend that Yale’s management style has made it possible for the institution to retain an impressive profile whose stability depends most significantly on the rigid management style and leadership. An adoption of a hybrid system of administration has made it possible for the institution to include innovative practices within the general leadership structure.

One of the strengths of the leadership and management style adopted by Yale is that it promotes steady growth and the meeting of objectives. Yale has enjoyed consecutive periods of positive growth hence winning the confidence of the international academic community. The leadership policies are primarily based on enhancing the quality of education and academic excellence. This performance has often been accompanied by multiple related advantages, which work together to sustain high academic performance and the improvement of terms of service for the workers.


In terms of weaknesses, Yale’s vertical system poses challenges of identifying and promoting the talents of lower levels of the workers through the bureaucratic system. The various ladders of leadership pose structural challenges to the promotion of individual achievement and skill development. However, the same system has been blamed for slow innovation on matters of development and general performance.

Stanford University

At Stanford University, the management is structured in a vertical manner comprising of different positions, which operate at different levels down the structure (Stanford University, 2012). At the very top is the Office of the President and Provost. Each of these offices is subdivided into other smaller departments that are assigned to specific tasks within the institution. In total, Stanford comprises of about 300 departments (Stanford University, 2012). These departments report to the office of the president. Other departments report to the University’s organizational structure. Within the hierarchy of leadership, various offices report to the president.

These offices include Vice President for Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer, Vice President for Development and General Counsel (Stanford University, 2012). Others who report to the president include the Director of the Hoover Institution, Director of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Vice President for Land, Buildings, and Real Estate. The Vice President for Public Affairs, the President of the Stanford Alumni Association and the Vice President for Human Resources also report to the president. The smaller offices derive their mandate and operational power from the Office of the President and acts only as they are directed or empowered by the office of the President.

The office of the Provost heads various other offices. These include Vice Provost for Budget and Auxiliary Management, Vice Provost and Dean of Research, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, and Vice Provost for Graduate Education (Stanford University, 2012). Other offices that fall under this office include Academic Governance, Political Activities, Staff Policy on Conflict of Commitment and Interest, Unrelated Business Activity, Financial Irregularities, and other departments. As such, it is possible to note that most of the issues that relate to the regular running of the universities are shared between the office of the president and the office of the provost (Stanford University, 2012). The office of the provost plays a supportive role to the office of the president. Some of the issues that relate to the administration of the university generally fall under the main office of the president.

Noticeably, most of the issues that relate to the daily operations of the university receive their policy roles from the office of the president (Coleman & Earley, 2005). The president is mandated by the university constitutions to undertake some executive decisions that would help in providing policy direction on important matters that relate to the daily operations of the university. The role of the other members of the establishment is to provide all the necessary support that would be crucial in the running of the university at the practical levels of the management. These decisions are made jointly in consultative forums by the top-level management of the university. Therefore, the system of administration as designed by the university policies and laws ensures limited sharing of power although the top-level management still wields significant control and power over many aspects of the administration and leadership.


Few studies have been made regarding the association between Stanford’s management style and general academic performance (Sallis, 2002). However, it is possible to match the kind of leadership at the university and its global ranking. Usually, Stanford has been ranked close to Harvard in matters of academic excellence. Stanford continues to feature prominently in academic excellence across many disciplines. In a number of rankings, the university has kept an remarkable lead or performed highly in business, social sciences and natural sciences. Analysts have attributed this attribute to high levels of competence, which have seen the university triumph in a variety of areas within the field of professional practice (Lorange, 2002). It would be important to consider the fact that most of the issues that relate to the functionality of the university are controlled by the manner in which the administration is organized to respond to the learning needs of the students.

Academic experts contend that the style of leadership adopted by Stanford has led to significant growth and stable performance in infrastructure and academic development. The top-down style of leadership provides avenues for upward mobility in terms of promotions for the employees. Further, the system motivates the workers to strive for promotions and good performance. This kind of leadership encourages a conducive environment of calm and confidence, which promotes the aspect of stability within the organization. It is also results-oriented. This makes it possible to cultivate an environment of excellence.


One of the weaknesses of the vertical approach is that it locks out the participation of subordinates from the vital process of decision-making. As such, Stanford workers might feel some degree of alienation and lack of process ownership due to the feeling of exclusion.

Appraising the performance of the university as a function of its quality of leadership is a common practice in multiple discourses that attempt to explore the relationship between leadership and academic performance. When other factors such as the operational environment, levels of funding, political environment, and socio-economic dynamics remain constant, the determinant of academic performance becomes the effectiveness and efficiency of leadership and management. In this regard, it becomes important to consider some of the issues that affect academic performance in terms of the consequences of managerial dynamics. Various aspects of managerial dynamics weave into the aspect of leadership in ways that promote the overall features of management.

According to academic theorists, the style of leadership and management in educational institutions is often a strong determinant of academic performance. Leadership style usually injects certain synergies into the structure of the institution in ways that contribute significantly to the performance of the institution (Hallinger & Bridges, 2007). This observation is consistent with the views of other theorists who argue that the level of academic performance corresponds with the style of leadership and the management structure. An understanding of this reality could be in terms of the assumptions that associate leadership to the various degrees of efficiency. Various aspects of leadership have been associated to different degrees of efficiency in educational systems.

The aspect of competition has often shaped the contours of higher education in the United States. The liberalized academic climate encourages competition in institutions of higher learning. The organizational structure of any institution will often determine the nature of its performance in matters of academic performance. Competition is one of the most important determinants of academic performance of any organization (Morrison, 1998). This competition takes place on two levels. The first level of the competition usually takes place at the academic level. The second level of competition works at the level of profile. However, the first level of competition usually contributes to the second level. Other factors often merge with the first level of the competition to contribute towards the second level of the competition.

The need to compete favorably and raise the profile of an institution of higher learning requires some level of flexibility in terms of policy. Naturally, the policy of an academic institution will tend to control its degree of flexibility. Rigid management styles usually stifle the aspect of flexibility. Institutions that rely on such systems often encounter challenges of innovation. Innovation remains one of the primary movers of higher education in the United States. Innovation and excellence in research are the twin determinants of the level of performance in universities and colleges in the United States. Generally, innovation is the maiden tool of raising the profile of public universities. Flexible administrative structures and leadership styles have often ensured that universities raise the profile of their performance. The element of performance entails consistent attention to details in ways that reflect on the general structure of management in the institutions.

Leadership and management in academic institutions usually entail the engagement of multiple factors that contribute as a whole towards efficiency in the systems and the improvement of performance of the institutions (Lucas, 1996). On this score, it becomes necessary to determine some of the issues that affect the performance of the three universities, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford in terms of their relative strengths and weaknesses in management and leadership. The ability of universities to change is highly dependent on management and leadership styles. It is important to consider the fact that there exists some of the issues that regulate competition and performance of public universities. For instance, educational institutions that rely on rigid structures of leadership are less likely to compete favorably with institutions that are more flexible.

The decentralized nature of the American higher education allows for innovative practices and competition in the institutions of higher learning. The administration of public universities in the United States is usually conducted by individual states. The federal government does not provide any sweeping regulations that could be used to harmonize operations within the education sector. Although public universities receive occasional grants from the federal government there is never any direct action on the matter. Ultimately, these universities are left to operate on some level playing ground. The individual initiative of the institutions is essential in determining their profile in the category of academic performance.

Universities in the United States are largely controlled by the desire for accreditation. One of the requirements for accreditation revolves around the question of competence in leadership. Stability in leadership usually determines various factors that relate to the issues of professionalism and academic excellence in the industry (Carney, 2007). Management styles are important indicators of the capacity of the academic institutions to operate in ways enhance positive performance. In a liberalized educational system the management of public universities require some determined shift from the conventional approaches that fail to respond to the challenges of current age. Such challenges relate to the challenges of policy since the changes in educational systems often demand the transformation of leadership styles (Clotfelter, 2010).

University education in the United States changed to a significant degree in response to the forces of globalization. These forces have transformed the education sector in ways that require management and leadership styles that would address the needs of the international student community. The three universities, Yale, Harvard, and Stanford remain the most sought after destinations of international education. The manner in which they respond to the global nature and the rising demand is often regulated by the management and leadership styles. Horizontal systems of leadership in the education sector are more likely to attract the international student community more effectively than alternative forms of management. On this score, it becomes important to consider some of the challenges that relate to the discourse of globalization in light of leadership and management of higher education in the United States.

Cultural diversity of the international student community is one of most common features that affect and is in turn affected by the dynamics of management leadership of educational institutions. The management styles of the institutions of higher learning must change to reflect some level of diversity in order to accommodate the element of diversity within the systems. This issue involves a determined approach on the processes of organizational change.

Essentially, one of the notable factors in matters of educational management is that levels of teacher motivation correspond to their ability to produce better performance within the student fraternity (Grahan & Diamond, 2004). It would be important to consider some of the issues of management in relation to general performance of the institution. Assessing the performance of an academic institution involves multiple issues that have to be brought together in order to contribute meaningfully to the discourse of leadership. For universities, such an assessment becomes even more complex because it involves the determination of the many issues that tie into the issues of management. Some methods of assessing performance have tended to limit themselves to matters of academic performance while others adopt a more general picture in order to get a comprehensive review of the facts.

Significant changes have been witnessed in the management systems of educational institutions in the past decade during the past few years. These changes have been occasioned by the emerging social realities, which require that academic institutions change to reflect the demands and preferences of the society. Increasingly educational planners have realized that some of the traditional and conventional practices do not align with the external forces. This realization has necessitated a determined shift from the conventional ways in order to adequately respond to the emerging realities (Brint, 2002). The leadership of educational institutions should be organized in ways that capture the outer societies. It is in line with this realization that systems have been developed for the purpose of aligning realities with matters of necessity.

The American society has grown increasingly liberal. The discourses of globalization and liberalization have been cited as some of the contributory forces to this social phenomenon. The country remains one of the leading academic destinations in the world. Educational institutions have to change in order to capture the international stature of these universities.

Political forces represent a significant macroeconomic force that affects the changing trends in the management and leadership style of universities in the United States. The universities, as microcosms of the society, are faced with the pressure to transform their systems in ways that shall reflect the greater external philosophies of democracy. As such, the relative strengths and weaknesses of an administrative structure are measured by the degree to which they have infused the tenets of democracy in their governing structures. This involves an active representation of the various issues that relate to the element of representative governance at the institutions of higher learning. Some scholars have sought to analyze some of the challenges facing American universities in light of the systems of administration and leadership.

Cost Effectiveness

Economic factors have a profound influence on the management and leadership structures of institutions of higher learning. Some states prefer to work with lean but efficient systems while other institutions operate on broad administrative structures. Usually, the manner in which an academic institution is organized determines the cost of running the institutions. Past seasons of depression and financial crises have often meant that universities regulate their expenditure in order to safeguard themselves against adverse eventualities. Proper management of institutions is usually associated with the level of discipline in the management of finances. Studies show that flexible administrative structures are cheaper to maintain than rigid ones. Most institutions of higher learning in the United States have sought various cost-cutting measures in order to score on the level of efficiency.

In many cases, the fees payable by the students is determined with regard to the costs of operating the institution. Effective management systems will often seek to eliminate the non-working parts of the organization as a way of reducing on costs. The monies saved in the process of management could be directed towards such essential practices as research and extension, which are the core functions of any institution of higher learning. Research determines the performance, profile, and ranking of universities in the United States. Comparative analyses show that some universities have more disposable finances for research purpose than others do. The kind of management will often determine the nature and quality of research activities because of the availability of the finances.

One of the challenges that face institutions of higher learning is that they are generally sustained by grants and reserves. The management of any institution sets the priorities that govern the operations of the institution. Finances will often tend to determine the nature of priorities and the direction of the managerial policies of an institution. The determination of matters of policies could be in terms of directing the manner in which funds are used at the institution. At Harvard and Stanford, the element of priorities often dictates the manner in which the funds are used in the institution. Poor management and leadership structures will often result into a bloated workforce within the educational system.

The immediate impact of such a workforce is a high wage bill, which exerts pressure on the organization of the system. On this score, it is necessary to weigh the levels of efficiency of a management and leadership style through a broad spectrum that encompasses various aspects of the management. Such matters relate to the efficiency in the management of the systems and the ability of the management to effectively preside over the financial aspects of the organization. These levels of efficiency can only be achieved through a proper management structure that operates within the systems of efficiency. Harvard remains one of the leading institutions of higher learning because of the high level of research activities that it engages in.


This study compared the leadership and management styles of three universities, Harvard, Stanford and Yale. There is a strong resemblance between the systems of management adopted by Yale and Stanford Universities. The two systems are defined by a vertical, top-down system where the management makes the decisions while the lower cadres implement them. This system of management also features other advantages that include hastened development and aura of confidence. On the other hand, the Harvard style of management features a combination of democratic and paternalistic styles of leadership. The workers have more autonomous opportunities to engage in matters of development.

The study also explored the gradual changes that have taken place in the course of the centuries. The transformation from authoritarian to more democratic systems of management were explored. The management styles of world affairs have undergone gradual transformation since the 6th century. The earliest attempt to define the styles of management have been traced to the writings of Sun Tzu entitled The Art of War. The Military Strategist explored on a range of skills and strategies that could affect positively and efficiently on the art of management. The most notable styles of management were developed during the twentieth century. Most styles of management were based on the creation of scientific methodologies to guide the art and science of management. A management style developed by Frederick Taylor was based on the premise that divided decision-making and performance of tasks between the management and the workers respectively. This style was commonly referred to as Taylorism.

A management style commonly referred to as Hawthorne effect emerged during the mid-twentieth century with emphasis on improving the working environment for the leaders. This style of management was based on the fact that empowering and facilitating workers had a direct impact on their levels of success and general performance. This style of management gave way to the Drucker Management Theory, which was developed by Peter Drucker. This style of management made strong emphasis on the need for employee objectives, clarity of objectives and communication as the three determining factors of success. Drucker Management Theory was widely embraced as one of the best models of management.

Management styled that followed included authoritarian management styled, a democratic management style, a paternalistic management style, autocratic management style, autocratic management style, laissez-faire management style. Modern times have seen an increasing reliance on the democratic styles of management. Some institutions have, instead, adopted paternalistic systems of management. Authoritarian styles of leadership are sometimes preferred because decision-making processes are faster and management benefits from the aura of confidence. However, such systems are affected by challenges of exclusiveness in which workers that prefer some autonomy are locked out from the decision-making processes.


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