Tips From The Top: One On One With Dr. Julie Wollman, President of Widener University

I spoke to Dr. Julie E. Wollman, President of Widener University, about her best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Julie: When I retire, which I hope isn’t for many, many years, I want to work with incarcerated individuals as a prison educator. Not surprisingly, I believe deeply in the transformative power of education and in my civic responsibility to spread that power.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Julie: I got to where I am through a combination of dedication, a desire to serve others, and a love of hard work.

I have learned and grown from every experience I’ve had. I believe in continuous improvement. I have learned that getting the right people on the team is most important—when you don’t have them, make a change to get them. When you do have them, make sure they know how much they are valued.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Julie: I think courage to do what’s right and to make difficult decisions is a key defining quality. Of course that requires clarity about your personal values and appreciation of the values of your organization. Excellent communication skills, awareness of your various constituencies, and respect for their perspectives and needs are also very important. You must care about others and be transparent.

To take your leadership skills to the next level, you need to be a voracious learner, constantly refine your communication skills, and learn from every experience, good or bad.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?


1) Love your work and live your work in order to be successful at it.

2) You have to take risks to succeed.

3) Never be afraid to admit a mistake and set a better course.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Julie: Trust your gut. What you are sensing comes from real, though subtle, observations and signals. It’s simple, yet we are taught to trust everything else first. So, the hard part is following that advice!

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Julie: Generously support institutions and causes you care about. Also, take time to mentor students and colleagues. Model the behavior and attitudes you want to see others learn.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Julie: I work out every day and that helps me stay fit both physically and mentally. I also love spending time with my dogs—they teach compassion and the joy of unconditional love.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Julie: I introduced a Common Ground initiative at Widener to create a model for challenging the polarization plaguing our society. Common Ground involves faculty, students and staff listening respectfully and engaging in reasoned civil discourse on challenging topics. This proactive approach reveals that we share similar concerns and our passion about issues is the beginning of finding common ground. I believe that our graduates will be better citizens of their local communities and of the world because they have learned to identify and explore common ground as a part of their Widener education.

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