Having spent the past 15 years researching and advising global organizations on “smart collaboration,” I can say with
confidence that President Scott Green is a true exemplar of the concept. From my first time working with him and his
leadership team several years ago, I witnessed firsthand his commitment to effective collaboration and its successful
execution. This was key in the University of Idaho emerging stronger from financial insolvency, a global pandemic, and a
senseless tragedy involving four students.
My teaching and research at Harvard University (both the Business and Law Schools) have revealed that top leaders
typically value collaboration, but they often don’t know how to do it right. This costs them highly in terms of lost
revenue, slower innovation, poor employee and customer engagement, and more.1
Scott is an exception.
As shown time and time again in the University President’s Crisis Handbook (by Scott and his coauthor Temple Kinyon), he
has the skill and will to collaborate smarter to achieve his top goals. And the “top goals” piece is crucial. One of the
first tenets of smarter collaboration is to start with the end in mind. Throughout the book, Scott reiterates his three
strategic pillars: student success, the path to R1 Carnegie research classification, and controlling the narrative by
telling the U of I’s story.
Scott never loses sight of these pillars, viewing every challenge and opportunity through the lens of these objectives.
Not only do they shape his priorities, but they guide him when deciding whom to tap for associated projects. Let’s take
soil research as an example. When College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) Dean Michael Parrella applied for a
highly competitive $18.9 million grant to build a center for deep soil research, Scott and Special Assistant Toni
Broyles became heavily involved. They made the grant proposal a “presidential priority,” which aligned the provost, vice
provosts, vice presidents, Office of Research and Economic Development, and Office of Sponsored Programs with CALS.
Working closely with experts from these different key areas was crucial for landing the grant. Now, researchers from
across the world will come to the Moscow campus to study deep soil carbon capture, water quality, and variables
impacting health. This can help industry adapt to warmer temperatures in a sustainable way.
In addition to starting with the end (such as research excellence) in mind, Scott knows how to bring in the right
perspectives—from both inside and outside the university. In fact, his network is so vast and ever growing that he
repeatedly thinks of someone nontraditional yet highly beneficial to consult with. We’ll take his decision to become
university president as an example. To make the most informed choice possible, he met with alumni and longtime U of I
supporters, his current boss (the CEO at Hogan Lovells), and his former boss (comanaging partner at WilmerHale)—among
others. Using their collective knowledge of both the university and his strengths helped him realize the position was a
good fit. And sometimes, these ties boosted his prospects. For example, after meeting with Scott, one influential
contact shared with an Idaho board regent that the new president should have business, marketing, communications,
fundraising, and political expertise (which Scott had)—not necessarily a PhD—and provost and land-grant experience
(which Scott didn’t have). If Scott hadn’t cultivated and leveraged these connections, who knows what would have
It’s clear that Scott’s networking savvy extends to his colleagues. For example, when the U of I needed more space for
its Boise law school, and a property went up for sale, President’s Office Special Advisor Chandra Zenner Ford stepped
in. She met with the listing agent for the property, an old friend she typically saw once a year, to catch up. She let
him know of the university’s interest in the building; while the sales price was too high, a connection of this agent
(and U of I alumnus) agreed to purchase and lease it to the university for a fair amount.
Smart collaborators also embrace conflict, knowing that a diversity of perspectives makes for a better end result.
Whether it relates to budget cutting (e.g. $14 million in FY20) or new policies (e.g. the return to in-person
instruction in the fall of 2020), differing viewpoints have helped Scott and his team formulate the best plan forward.
For example, for the return to face-to-face classes, the university required masks, and online learning was available
for those uncomfortable being physically close to others.
When things got heated during the pandemic and beyond, Scott made it a point of staying calm and continuing to work with
others. His mantra, “Stay Calm and Vandal On,” has been used by faculty, staff, and students throughout his tenure and
supported by the use of data and facts. When faculty expressed fear or hysteria during budget cutting, for example, he
worked to keep his cool and share relevant statistics. In one case, he countered the perception the university was
understaffed with stats on the student/faculty ratio at the U of I (1:14) versus its most comparable peers (1:16). This
knowledge helped Scott and his leadership team determine where to make cuts, and his composed explanation earned him
broader support. This kind of behavior aligns with our research on smarter collaboration: times of stress can cause
people to withdraw, but this is exactly when purposeful, outcome-focused collaboration is most needed.
Transparent, clear, and regular communication also helps build interpersonal and competence trust, two key ingredients
for effective collaboration and its strategic outcomes. Whether it’s with students, faculty, staff, alumni, partners, or
the public, Scott consistently re-shares the U of I’s three pillars, its new developments and protocols, and the
connection between priorities and decisions made. As fantasy and sci-fi author Alex Irvine has so wisely written,
“Overcommunicate. It’s better to tell someone something they already know than to not tell them something they needed to
hear.” This was the approach Scott took following the brutal murder of four students, sending 18 email communications to
students, faculty, and alumni in the weeks that followed.
Scott understands that to drive real change, it takes a combination of mindsets, behaviors, structures, and cultural
elements. Whether it’s standardizing financial reporting structures across colleges and units, investing in research
capabilities to boost student learning, or marketing the research/academic accolades of the university to prospective
students, these kinds of efforts support the strategic pillars and require smart collaboration from pertinent parties.
Luckily, Scott and his team have this down pat.
I highly encourage university presidents, as well as leaders from any kind of organization, to read the University
President’s Crisis Handbook. It provides a blueprint for identifying your top goals, collaborating the right way to
accomplish them, and handling crises and day-to-day challenges that get in your way. Like me, you’ll surely be impressed
by the progress that the U of I has made over the last four years—under President Scott Green’s collaborative
leadership. But Scott makes it clear it was a team effort: As you’ll read in this book, “The teamwork and dedication
displayed by faculty and staff stood out to him. The institution persevered through incredibly difficult and stressful
situations because of its collaborative efforts.” Read on and prepare to be wowed.
Dr. Heidi K. Gardner
Distinguished Fellow, Harvard Law School
(1) For more on this topic, see my latest book Smarter Collaboration: A New Approach to Breaking Down Barriers and