Description of the video:
Scarpino: So, just to get this in the record, you started at the Jepson School in 1992.
Hickman: Correct. That was the inaugural year.
Scarpino: You’re listed as a founding faculty member, but you were hired in the second cohort. There were a few people there before you got there.
Hickman: No. So, I should be listed as, I call it, the inaugural faculty year. . .
Scarpino: . . . You are, yes.
Hickman: . . . because there were four people hired to do start to develop the ideas for the program.
Scarpino: I mean, they were there when the building was going up sort of thing.
Hickman: I was there when the building – I mean, I came the year that they opened the building and they officially started. That’s our official opening date, is 1992.
Scarpino: The dean who hired you was Howard Prince?
Scarpino: He came from West Point.
Scarpino: Okay. So, University of Richmond has this newsletter. It’s called The News Room. It has a cover article about your pending retirement in April of 2012. The article pointed out the fact that you had seen this ad for the brand-new Jepson School in The Chronicle. Then it quotes you saying, “I had actually heard of the Jepson School before I moved to Richmond,” which we talked about, “but I saw the ad, and thought the mission of the school sounded wonderful – and that if I could work anywhere in the world, that’s where I would work.” Then the article goes on to say that you walked through the Jepson Hall while it was still under construction. It finishes up with you saying, “But I knew then that was where I belonged.”
Scarpino: How did you know that? I mean, what made you feel like: I want to be in this place, and the building is not done?
Hickman: I mean, when I read that – Cynthia Cherrey was right that my life is built on purpose. I mean, I look at a purpose and see is this something that I want to join? Does this mean something to me? Is it something that I know I can contribute to? When I read that purpose, I just thought, “Everything in my life has led me to this. This is what I want to do.” When I went to the interview, I forgot I was being interviewed. It was just like, “Oh my God. Here are my colleagues. I can’t wait to be here.” I mean, it just – I guess if I hadn’t gotten the job, I would have been devastated. I just knew. I have nothing else to say except that everything I’ve done I feel like led me to that place and that purpose.
Scarpino: I mean, I don’t know, or have not met, all of the founding or inaugural faculty, but I have met one other, Richard Couto . . .
Hickman: . . . and Joanne Ciulla was the first faculty member they hired.
Scarpino: I don’t think I’ve actually met her.
Hickman: Oh, you haven’t met her. Okay.
Scarpino: But, one of the things that Dr. Prince told me is that there weren’t people out there who were experts – academic experts – in leadership.
Hickman: Right. Exactly.
Scarpino: He hired people because they had experience, or because they had written about the subject, or they could bring something to a developing field. That certainly fit you to a “T.” I mean, you had leadership experience, but to the best of my knowledge, you hadn’t published anything on leadership up until that point.
Hickman: No, no.
Scarpino: So, why do you think he took a chance on you? I mean, because in a sense, he took a chance on everybody he hired.
Hickman: He took a chance on everybody he hired.
Scarpino: Not just you, but I’m talking to you right now, so. . .
Hickman: . . . Yeah.
Scarpino: Why do you think that he looked at you and said, “I want that woman on the faculty?”
Hickman: Yeah, I think that he looked at my background, and he thought, “This woman does know about leadership. I mean, she may not have published on it.” I had this publication that – not a publication – I had this unpublished paper that I had written in the doctoral program. I really love theory, as much as I love practice. I have always combined those two. So, when I was in the doctoral program, I wrote this theoretical paper on the transformistic organization. It walked about transforming all the way – an organization that actually continually transformed itself by the way that it set up its leadership, and in relationship to events that were going on in the external environment. So, as we study public administration, we study how an organization relates to its environment. Bureaucratic organizations relate to stable environments. Changing organizations relate to changing environments. The faculty asked us to project the theories that we were studying into the future. I mentioned that the other day. When I started reading Bennis and Slater’s The Temporary Society and things like that, I started thinking about what kind of environment is that future going to have? They were talking about transforming, and the ability to adapt, and all of that. So, I geared my concepts of what that organization would look like toward a transforming, turbulent, dynamic environment. That’s when I started thinking about what kind of leadership would it take to have an organization in those contexts. So, the work that I do now really started in my thinking back in the doctoral program. When I met James MacGregor Burns, who wrote about transforming leadership, he asked me – he was such a wonderful mentor, and he took me out to lunch and asked to read something that I had written. He got that paper, and he was like, “Wow!” And I said, “You wrote your book in ’78. I wrote this paper in ’74.” He was just surprised. So, I think Howard, you know, when I – actually, I asked to see the dean. I took my vitae over in person because I wanted to talk to these people to see who they were and what they were doing. When I took my vitae over, I asked if I could talk to the dean. I went in. Actually, the first thing I said is, “This program is phenomenal! This is just –” You know, I was so enthusiastic about. Then, I guess my enthusiasm countered with my experience made him think that “Yeah, this woman is interested in this. She really is.”
Scarpino: The way the search process worked was: you read the ad, you hand delivered your resume – your CV – and you said, “I want to talk to the dean.” The dean said okay, and you went in and sold yourself.
Hickman: Well, I wasn’t trying to. I just wanted to know what – you know, what is this? Tell me more about it. I was just so excited about it. I just went in and started talking about why I was – you know, why I thought this was phenomenal, and I was listening to him talk about what the program was. I really didn’t think about it that way. I just wanted to know more, you know.
Scarpino: Was that your only interview, or did they call you back for another?
Hickman: Oh no, no. That wasn’t an interview, you know. It’s just – I had to know who these people were. I believe totally that there should be a fit between a person and the organization as much as possible. I just wanted to know more about this.
Scarpino: But that was sort of consistent with your past practice, and the way you ran things professionally and personally.
Scarpino: The dean came out of a military background. He came from The U.S. Army Military Academy.
Scarpino: Did your philosophy and understanding of leadership square with his?
Hickman: Here’s the beauty of that: He had written a book on leadership in organizations for the military. He gave me two courses to develop: Leadership in Organizations and Leading Change. We all had to develop courses. As I sat down and I thought about the course, I would come in and share my ideas with him because he was the only other person on the faculty who had any organization background. That was really a good thing. We really were able to communicate around that because he did understand leadership in organizations, having written – co-written – a book on it. So, I said, “I’m used to teaching adult students, and now I’ve got to teach somebody about how leadership happens in organizations, and they are 18 to 22. So, I’ve got to come up with a really new way of approaching this.” So, I would think of ideas, and then I would go in, and I’d say, “What do you think about this, Howard?” We developed a really good collegial relationship around the fact that we both knew about leadership in organizations.
Scarpino: When you reported for work, so to speak, at the Jepson School, did you have any sense that you and your colleagues were leading the way nationally, maybe internationally, in leadership studies? Did you realize – I mean, I used to cross-country ski. So, did you realize you were out in front breaking trail and maybe there was nobody behind you? (laughter)
Hickman: Yeah, we became quite aware of that very soon. I think I love pioneering. It’s just fun for me. It was such hard work. You know, it was hard work. We were there on Sundays, we were there every day. We only had each other to depend on. It was really hard and exhilarating work. But, yeah, we started to become a laboratory for everybody else. We wanted to do that on purpose because we knew how hard it was for us, and we figured other people shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel if we could do something to help them have a headstart. People would come, sit in our classrooms, and talk with us all the time – people who wanted to start leadership programs. Yeah, we knew – I guess you can never know what a huge challenge that is, but we did know it was considerable.
Scarpino: Did you ever think about the fact that while you were pioneering in this area, and pioneering, in a sense, in a highly public way because people were looking at what you were doing, that there was a risk, that maybe it might not work?
Hickman: Oh, sure (laughter). The university made it pretty clear that it was a big risk for them. Howard Prince and I talked about this some since, and he said, “You know, we were – it was huge.” He said, “I realize what a tremendous responsibility it was,” because everybody was looking at us. The university had invested all this money, and we couldn’t fail. If we failed, it would be horrible. So, I don’t even think about failure as an option in those cases, but he’s right. It was. It was a gigantic risk, and that’s why they didn’t tenure any of us in. They were testing us out to see – you know, if this experiment didn’t work, we didn’t want to have all these extra faculty members that we didn’t know what to do with. They didn’t tenure any of us – except Howard – in.
Scarpino: That’s why, because they weren’t entirely persuaded it was going to work.
Hickman: Right. And then there were a lot of faculty against it in the arts and sciences. There were a lot of faculty who did not think that was an appropriate school for the university. They were already mad because there was a business school and a law school on our campus, and they didn’t want anything else that they thought might be a professional school, which we are not. We are really developed around the liberal arts, but they saw that as perhaps another kind of business school, and that’s just not what it is. But, yeah, we knew it was a huge risk, and we were constantly fighting misperceptions about us on campus. We had faculty members that would actually say to our students when they realized they were Leadership Studies majors, “Why are you majoring in that lightweight area? There’s no ‘there’ there,” kind of. Our students knew differently, but it was horrible. They would call them out in classes.
Scarpino: It’s my understanding that Mr. Jepson gave money to the university with the idea they would develop it, but that there was a campus-wide conversation. . .
Hickman: . . . There was.
Scarpino: . . . then they developed the whitepaper and so on. And I’m sure not everybody agreed with that, but there was some effort to bring the faculty on board rather. . .
Hickman: . . . It’s called “Draft No. 4.”
Scarpino: I’ve read “Draft No. 4.”
Hickman: Yeah. Yeah.
Scarpino: I assume there were three other drafts, which I didn’t read.
Hickman: Yeah, and so it was well thought through, really. I mean, we took that very seriously as our marching orders in a way, and we believed in it. We didn’t do it just because the faculty had developed it, but we thought conceptually that is what we want to do. I think that paper still holds up.
Scarpino: As you pointed out, the inaugural faculty came into a situation where there were names of classes on paper, and that was about it.
Hickman: That was it.
Scarpino: And you developed, or you were assigned by the dean, Leadership in Organizations and Leading Change.
Scarpino: I assume that the dean assigned those classes to you because of your background and experience. . .
Hickman: . . . Right.
Scarpino: . . . that you were the person in that area.
Hickman: Because the organizational theory and behavior were really solid areas of my background, so I used that as a launching pad. And in public administration, you learn the leadership theories, and you teach the leadership theories that come out of management. Those are the theories that we were using then.
Scarpino: So you were reading Peter Drucker and . . .
Hickman: Not Peter Drucker as much as McGregor and Theory X and Theory Y, and Mary Parker Follett, and people like that. I taught those to my students, so I did know the dominant management theories – management writers who were writing about leadership at the time.
Scarpino: I will say, just to put this in the record, that I did talk to Dean Prince. . .
Scarpino: . . . who is now at University of Texas at Austin.
Scarpino: I also talked to Crystal Hoyt. She told me that one of your strengths was combining theory and practice. So, you – and you had clearly -- we’ve already talked about that. You had been doing that in California, but when you got to Richmond, you got to the Jepson School, how did your prior work experience inform the ways you developed your classes?
Hickman: I was still determined that the only way to teach 18- to 22-year-olds the kind of information that I had to teach was to combine theory and practice. I worked out over the years in each of those classes a way for them to do that. The thing that I did in the Leading Organizations class is we built an organization in the classroom using leadership theories. The first half of the class I introduced them to leadership theories about organizations, and I looked at it – they had these course packets because I did not have a book that I thought worked for them. There was one book on leading organizations, which is – I’m trying to think of the author right now, but it was very theoretical, and to me, it was more graduate level. I didn’t think my students could understand that.
Scarpino: I’m going to go back to this in a minute, but you literally wrote the book when it came to those courses.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you about that in a minute, but in the beginning, you’re using course packets because. . .
Hickman: I’m using course packets.
Scarpino: . . . there wasn’t really a. . .
Hickman: No, but I started with a framework about how I thought leadership should occur in organizations, and then the course packets matched the framework. The first half of the class, they would be introduced to the theories. The second half of the class, their assignment was to develop a new organization using those theories. So, they were divided into groups. There was a vision and mission group, and there was a leadership concept group. You know, what kind of leadership is this organization going to have? Each group led the class in conversation about -- they decided what kind of organization they wanted to build, and it just ranged all kind of interesting things. One year, they decided they were going to do – the farms that are now rejected, but where you grow fish -- I forgot what you call those. . .
Scarpino: . . . Agriculture.
Hickman: . . . Yes, yes. They decided to do that one year. Another year, they did something in advertising. I didn’t care what they chose, as long as we built this organization. So, they would come up with a brand-new organization. Each team led the whole class in coming up with the vision and mission. One team led the class in coming up with, “Well, what philosophy of leadership do we want to use in this organization, and how does that fit with the organization, the vision, the mission?” So, we had like five or six teams for different areas. Then they had to put it all together at the end, and they had to present it. I invited people to the class for them to present it to. Then it got even more complex as it went along because then I said that whatever organization you come up with, you have to visit other organizations like that. So, if it’s a restaurant, you’re going to have to send a team out and look at out how they do this. So, it got more and more – but always combining theory and practice. When they gave the presentation, they would present it as though this is a new offering, we want people to invest in our business. So, I would bring business people in and people to listen to it. It’s just phenomenal. And when we started the part of the class where they would work with their peers to come up with these visions and whatever, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise because they would be so engaged with each other. I would say, “Well, I, I, I haven’t—“ But it was just – that thrilled me to no end when we got to that point.
Scarpino: You were also layering in communications skills, and research, and synthesis, and all kinds of things.
Hickman: Working in teams, learning how to have shared leadership, that kind of thing. Yeah. They had to go to the speech center because the people who were going to present it had to learn how to present. They had to write it. They had to write the paper. The wrote different parts of it. It had to come together as a whole. They had all of that to do.
Scarpino: This was for your Leadership in Organizations course.
Hickman: My Leading Change course, the first time I did it, I didn’t like it. I just didn’t do it right. They did a lot of reading. They applied it to, I don’t know, different – the different readings that I had. But I said, “You know what? They don’t have any sense of what this actually means, what change feels like.” So, I started the next semester by having them lead a change on campus. They had to pick something that they wanted to change on campus, and then they had to apply the change theories and work with campus organizations to do it. I abandoned that because they did a good job, but students, you know, there was nobody to carry it on really after they started it. I thought, “No, this is not working.” So, then I went to community organizations, and I would send out a request for proposals in the summer. I would say, “You’re going to get free labor to help you make this change. Now propose something you would like for them to change in these areas.” So, we looked at organizational change, community change, political change, and social movements. There were times when we had four different organizations in those four areas of change, and then there were other times when we had one organization that had change in each of those areas. Then the proposals would come forward, and I would present the proposals to the class and let them choose the project they wanted to work on. For the semester, we would work with that organization while they learned the theories and applied them. Then they again presented them at the end to the organization.
Scarpino: Let’s just pick one of your courses: Leadership in Organizations. This is an undergraduate program, so I assume that, like most undergraduates, they went on to different, you know, careers and various. . .
Hickman: . . . They did.
Scarpino: As you look back on it when students took that class, what do you hope stuck with them? What do you hope that they would remember in five, or ten, or fifteen years that would just become a part of them?
Hickman: One of the things that I hope they would remember is that organizations can be changed. You do not have to accept the status quo. They can be made better. Leadership can be made better in those organizations. When you start, you probably start in a team and you’re in the team, and you’re not in a leadership role, but you can still exercise leadership by the ideas that you have, by the work that you do. You already have a holistic focus about how an organization can work with these leadership concepts, even though you might not be able to do it right then. I hope that they could start out contributing more than most undergraduates could contribute. And guess what? They got hired into the Change Management of Accenture, the Change Management Division, and they were the only undergraduates of a bachelor’s degree program that got hired in Change Management because they were already accelerated in what they could do. Many of them have written to me and said, “Oh, Dr. Hickman, you cannot believe, we saw exactly what you were talking about in our organization, and I suggested this, or I found myself much better able to work with a team. Even though I was the youngest one, they started giving me leadership roles,” and whatever. I hope that they would know that organizations should be humane, they’re made up of people, you respect those people’s intelligence and contributions, no matter what level they come from, and you use those in the organization. I think a lot of them have done that quite well.