Imagine holding one of the top leadership positions in a county or region for 10 years or more. Then consider all the decisions you're responsbile for and all the constituencies you must serve, including thousands of students, taxpayers and a board of directors. Take all of that and try to conjure how anyone could handle those responsiblities and never face public criticism. It seems impossible, but Dr. Norman Stephens, outgoing president of South Florida State College, has done exactly that and it's an impressive feat by any measure.
Stephens is stepping down from the college's top position this week and handing the reins to a new president. The incoming president will slide into a sweet position and an instution that's hitting on all cylinders. He has big shoes to fill but he's also in a great position to continue the college's success.
Stephens has been able to navigate sometimes rough waters without much - if any - criticism because he's a such a great leader and intelligent person. Even that's not usually enough to escape the fire. That hasn't happened that we're aware of and it's an incredible success story.
We can't think of a person in any high-profile position for that long who hasn't spent some time in hot water. School superintendents, police chiefs, sheriffs, city administrators, business leaders, or anyone else who has had such a smooth run.
Some people will say it was luck, but it had a lot more to do with ability to do the job and everyone believing, or at least respecting, that what Stephens sought was in the long-term best interests of the college. We can't think of a decision he's made that was bad for Highlands County or any other county the college serves. That's a mighty big accomplishment.
Whenever you serve a board of of trustees or commissioners or any board, you're sometimes required to push forward agendas that aren't popular with some segment of the population. Working for a board is hard enough, especially when new people come on board and they weren't necessarily the ones who hired you. Stephens has navigated that.
The real secret of his success has been the respect he's earned by always doing what's right for SFCC and now SFSC. No one questioned his motives and the college has steered clear of controversial moves, not because anyone was afraid to move forward but because there were always good reasons why decisions were made.
Stephens will say much of his success is due to the good people he surrounded himself with, and the strong college boards he's served. He's right about all of that, but it's also true that it was his leadership style, his integrity and the high regard everyone has held him in that made all of that possible.
So we say farewell to Stephens as president of the college. He'll still be around and that's a good thing. We wish him well on a much deserved retirement and look forward for our new college president to take over and continue the excellent work Stephens has been doing.