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9 Virtues Blog

Curing Absentmindedness

by N. Karl Haden, Ph.D.


The nineteenth century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once made the following observation about his academic contemporaries: “Nowadays a thinker is a curious creature who during certain hours of the day exhibits a very remarkable ingenuity, but has otherwise nothing in common with a human being.”

Kierkegaard was known for his mordant pen. His cynicism aside, maybe there is something for us to learn from his quip. As a test, and to make him more contemporary, we might substitute dean, department chair, teacher, researcher, orclinician for thinker. To make his observation personal, you might try substitutingyour name. This commentary says something important to a community whose currency is “ingenuity.”  Not that resourcefulness, originality, and innovation are unimportant, but we as individuals are deficient if our ingenuity (and the accomplishments that result from it) alone measures and defines us.  Something is missing. Failure to recognize that something (or things) is a type of absentmindedness.

We can grow so preoccupied by our work that we become like the absent-minded professor who fails to notice what is happening right before his or her eyes. We might even fail to notice ourselves—our purpose, relationships, health, and psychological and spiritual wellbeing. We are rewarded for our ingenuity, but all the while risk losing those other dimensions of our humanity that make for happy, meaningful, and balanced lives. New preoccupations take the place of the old and ambition excites more ambition. In his essay entitled On the Shortness of Life, the Roman Stoic Seneca comments on the preoccupied, “If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect on how small a portion is their own.” In a world in which we are personally accessible 24/7, what is one to do?

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Introducing The 9 Virtues

by Rob Jenkins


Hello, and welcome! This is the official website for the new book, The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders: Unlocking Your Leadership Potential, by Dr. Karl Haden and Rob Jenkins (that’s me). We’re glad you clicked through to our site and hope you stay and browse a while—and come back often. We plan to post more great advice and information for leaders on this blog at least weekly.

Our book is unique in the “leadership lit” genre in that it constitutes a look at leadership through the prism of Virtue—actually, nine specific virtues that we have identified as being crucial to good leaders. Our message is two-fold, really. First, we believe that leaders are truly made, not born. Some people may be naturally gifted at one aspect of leadership or another (such as public speaking), but we all have the quintessential qualities of a great leader inside us, just waiting to get out. With time, attention, and effort, anyone can develop those innate qualities, which we are calling the Nine Virtues.

Second, we agree with Aristotle that virtue is a habit. The nine virtues themselves consist of certain habits of thought and behavior that can be cultivated over time. And, as I noted above, literally anyone can do this, if they want to badly enough. What Karl and I have attempted to do in this book is to identify not only the essential qualities of exceptional leaders—the 9 Virtues themselves—but also the specific behaviors and thought patterns that nurture and promote those virtues and ultimately reflect them to others.

But what really distinguishes this book from lots of others in the genre is that it’s not just a philosophical treatise on the nature of virtue (even though Karl is actually a philosopher by training). The book is chock full of practical suggestions for emerging leaders, including a set of “homework” assignments at the end of each chapter designed to help leaders practice and develop the virtues. In addition, we believe—and we’ve been told by many reviewers—that it’s a good read, an entertaining mix of history, philosophy, contemporary stories, and personal anecdotes, all written in a conversational style that will appeal to modern readers. We think, if you check it out, you’ll agree.

In addition to this blog, you can also find on our site a brief excerpt from the book, along with excerpts from some of the reviews I mentioned (and, in some cases, the entire reviews). Additionally, we’re working now on a set of discussion question for each chapter, as a helpful guide for organizations that would like to read the book together and discuss it as part of their ongoing leadership development efforts. Speaking of which, we’d love to help you and your organization with those efforts. That’s why you’ll find, on this site, a list of leadership development programs based on The 9 Virtues—anything from a 30-minutes keynote address to a day-long workshop to a three-day retreat, on or off-site. We’re at your disposal. You can find all our contact information on this site.

And, of course, lest we forget, there’s a page where you can go to actually order the book (with significant discounts for large orders!).

In closing this post, let me just tell you a little about Karl and myself. As I mentioned, Karl is a philosopher by training, with a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. He taught college for a while but discovered his true calling when he went to work for a higher education consulting firm, helping higher ed organizations improve both their leadership and their teaching. He went on to found his own consulting firm, The Academy for Academic Leadership, headquartered in Atlanta (but with clients literally all over the globe). AAL focuses primarily on leadership training but also works extensively in the area of teaching and learning. Most AAL clients, at this point, are higher education institutions or organizations, but the company is in the process of branching out and taking its message about leadership to a broader audience, in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. Because if there’s one thing Karl has learned in all his years at the helm of AAL, it’s that the principles of good leadership remain the same, regardless of the setting.

As for me, I’m an English professor at Perimeter College of Georgia State University, also located in Atlanta. Like Karl, I’ve had a wide variety of professional experiences, starting with 13 years as a (rather successful) small college basketball coach and athletic director. I went from there into academic administration and eventually found my way to the classroom full-time, which is where I feel most comfortable. For the past 13 years, in addition to administrating and teaching, I’ve been a regular columnist for my local paper as well as for The Chronicle of Higher Education. I’ve also contributed articles and chapters to many other publications and written two other books (with a fourth coming soon). Plus, I’ve had a lot of experience giving talks and lectures at colleges, universities, and conferences around the country. I joined AAL as a Fellow back in 2009 and have worked with Karl ever since—including our epic collaboration on this book.

That’s all for now, but please keep your eye on this space, as we’ll be updating it regularly with original blog posts as well links to our own articles and those of other thought leaders and influencers in the field of leadership. We believe you’ll find this site an extremely useful resource on your own leadership journey, and we hope you’ll add it to your list of favorites and come back often. 

The Hidden Barriers to Women's Leadership

by N. Karl Haden, Ph.D.


Although women today hold more leadership positions in academic medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy than ever before, 75 to 85 percent of deans and department chairs remain men. Even the percentages of women faculty members fall well below the current proportion of women students, and disparities in tenure status, salary, and national awards, as well as for such benefits as lab space, administrative support, and research time, continue to be reported in medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry.

As Dr. Judith Albino notes in her article in this issue, academic institutions and organizations are seeking to redress these inequities with leadership development programs for women and even some internal policy changes. As important as such moves are, however, there is also a need for us to understand the implicit assumptions within these environments that create invisible barriers for women.

One of those assumptions is the general tendency to associate stereotypically male behaviors with leadership qualities. In a recent issue of Academic Medicine, Janet Bickel reports that studies have found both women and men continue to hold common perceptual biases: “men are expected to be agentic (assertive and decisive) and women to be communal (nurturing and egalitarian).” When men act assertively, Bickel adds, they tend to be praised for their confidence, while women who display agentic behaviors are often criticized for being harsh and are judged negatively if perceived to be insufficiently nurturing.

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Leadership vs. Control

by Rob Jenkins


A new manager or administrator takes over a department or division and immediately begins issuing edicts, disbanding committees, replacing people, and squelching the inevitable dissent–through fear and intimidation, if necessary.

In another area, a new person comes in and right away starts working to build consensus, listening to those who have been there longer and seeking to understand the issues before making any drastic decisions.

How can two people in such similar situations take such radically divergent approaches?

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