Michael Johnson is a career professional with more than two decades of progressively responsible leadership and management experience in public service, university administration, organizational research and the classroom. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from The Citadel and completed his master’s degree and doctoral work in higher education at George Mason University.
Prior to joining the University of Houston, he served in various administrative and leadership positions in Enrollment Management, Student Service and Advancement at Purdue University, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College.
In addition, Johnson served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps in various leadership and command positions from platoon to division level both in garrison and overseas.
Do you see any organizational similarities between the military and higher education? What would you say is the most significant difference?
Organizationally, what makes the military and higher education successful in their respective areas is leadership. It doesn’t matter which organization you are talking about, if they don’t have good leaders throughout, then nothing you do will make it successful. I have spent a majority of my life studying and practicing leadership, and I believe that Douglas MacArthur put it best when he said, “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others…”
Clearly, the military and higher education have completely different missions, so their organization and hierarchical structures are unique to their respective missions. However, leadership will always be the common denominator for their success.
Shared governance is the most significant difference between the two organizations. In higher education, it’s a unique and delicate balance between faculty and staff participating in the planning and decision-making processes, on the one hand, and administrative accountability on the other. Of course, the military doesn’t really have a shared governance mentality. Its leadership is hierarchical and paternalistic. There is a lack of open-ended collaboration and more reliance upon formal rather than informal authority. Once decisions are made, then discussions or collaboration ends, which seems to fly in the face of the openness and messiness required for creativity and innovation to flourish as it does in the higher education community.
How would you describe/define your position as Chief of Staff here?
As the University Chief of Staff, I am responsible for the overall planning and management of the Office of the President, and I provide high-level support and advice to the president and, when appropriate, represent her outside the University. I coordinate activities of the senior administrative staff, providing a link between the Vice Presidents and the President, and assist the President in developing and implementing strategy.
My role is to help manage the flow of information internally as well as externally, keeping projects on track, providing advice on a variety of things and generally working to bring issues to resolution and closure while making sure all external constituencies are kept in the loop.
What are your initial impressions of the University of Houston? And Houston in general?
The University of Houston is just an outstanding organization with a dynamic and passionate leader who sees the tremendous potential in everything she puts her hands on. I couldn’t have been more excited about the opportunity to come and work with President Khator and become a part of the University of Houston family.
The people here have just been so welcoming and inviting. I grew up in the South, so I’m certainly familiar with southern hospitality, but there is nothing like a big Texas welcome to make you feel great about coming here.