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The Continuing Education Leader: Entrepreneurial Versus Invitational

While continuing education units may seem overly fixated on revenue-generation, they are typically grounded in moral ethics and transcend mere entrepreneurialism with an infusion of invitation.

When asking a continuing education (CE) leader what is a necessary quality for a successful unit, a common response is: possess the entrepreneurial spirit. The entrepreneur is “…one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 1998). Being entrepreneurial in continuing education can include a variety of things: accepting change and embracing new ideas; creating opportunities to generate revenue; and most importantly, serving the primary customer, which in most cases is the adult learner. However, as much as the continuing education leader regards being entrepreneurial as an essential asset, in reality, the most effective CE administrators have a commitment to being a moral leader. A new moral-based theory that is well-suited to the CE leader is invitational leadership.

Similar to the entrepreneurial philosophy, invitational leadership is an innovative theory, which holds that every person is intrinsically motivated, and that it is the leader’s responsibility to help individuals envision themselves engaging unique situations , overcoming difficult challenges, and achieving great success (Purkey & Siegel, 2003). This seems like a common practice of CE leaders who often are forging on to new frontiers of higher education, while encouraging faculty and departments to embark on new initiatives beyond the main campus.

Invitational theorists William W. Purkey and Betty L. Siegel outline the characteristics and environments of this leadership theory in their book, Becoming an invitational leader: A new approach to professional and personal success. They identify the attributes of trust, respect, optimism and intentionality, which are applied to the leader’s entire surroundings, also known as the five environments: people, places, policies, programs, and processes (Purkey & Siegel). When evaluating moral leadership theories, trust and respect are often cited as essential characteristics for a successful leader. The lesser-known attributes of optimism and intentionality transform a person from a born leader to one who is intentional in their actions (Novak & Purkey, 2001). The CE leader who is intentionally inviting takes deliberate steps to involve a variety of stakeholders in the process of evolving curriculum, instituting new delivery methods, and challenging longstanding institutional policies and procedures. These leaders do this for the primary reason that they have a passion for serving unique student populations (away from the traditional university environment) who might otherwise never have the opportunity to access education or additional training.

Like the entrepreneur, CE units take risks and generate revenues; but these leaders chose higher education administration because, rather than being motivated by a goal of making large profits, they are motivated by helping people. CE leaders might seem to be entrepreneurial in focus, but in fact within a higher education organizational structure, the most successful administrators have strong moral characteristics, which transcend a mere entrepreneurial spirit by infusing it with the qualities of an invitational leader.

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Mish, F.C. & Morse, J.M. (eds.). (1998). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary (10th ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.

Novak, J. & Purkey, W. (2001). Invitational education. Bloomington, IN: Phil Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

Purkey, W. & Siegel, B. (2003). Becoming an invitational leader: A new approach to professional and personal success. Atlanta, GA: Humantics.

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