The Heart of Leadership: People
Father Edward “Monk” Malloy, President Emeritus of the University of Notre  Dame, has spent a lifetime in leadership roles. One of the most striking elements of his philosophy is the emphasis on people. In our conversation, Monk stated, “For me, people are everything. We wouldn’t exist without people.” This principle is central to his approach to leadership. He believes that all other aspects of leadership, such as managing budgets or strategic planning, are secondary to the importance of valuing and investing in people.

Universities, in Monk’s view, have a dual mission: to serve the students entrusted to their care and to contribute to the broader civil society. He explained, “Universities are called to serve the students entrusted to our care and also to serve the people out there in the broader context of life. For us, it includes the Catholic Church, but also the broader civil society.” This holistic perspective ensures that every decision is made with the welfare of people in mind.

Navigating Activism and Free Speech
During his tenure, Monk faced various forms of student activism and protests. His approach to handling these challenges was rooted in a commitment to academic freedom and respect for diverse viewpoints. “Well, I’m a big supporter of academic freedom and the possibility of different parts of our constituencies to express themselves about whatever,” he said. This support for free expression, however, comes with a clear line drawn at safety and order. Monk emphasized, “You don’t want to have somebody come in and yell, ‘Fire!’ in a crowded auditorium or have false information. You don’t want any violence, and you want to organize protests in such a way that they don’t disrupt the life of the campus.”

Monk’s extensive travel and firsthand experiences in conflict regions have given him a unique perspective on these issues. His global outlook has been instrumental in shaping his nuanced and empathetic responses to politically charged protests, ensuring that free speech is upheld while maintaining campus safety.

Fundraising and Investment: Keys to Growth
Under Monk’s leadership, Notre Dame’s endowment grew from $456 million to $3 billion, a testament to his effective fundraising and investment strategies. He attributes this success to having a compelling story and a clear purpose. “It depends on successful fundraising and having a good story to tell to get the money in the first place,” he said. Engaging alumni and board members who have gone on to be successful and generous was crucial. He noted, “Our graduates, over time, some of them have gone on to be quite wealthy and generous, and so that helps a lot. Many members of our board of trustees, for example, have given us substantial sums of money.”

The importance of thanking donors and using funds effectively cannot be overstated. “Thanking people that have given you money is really important,” Monk emphasized. Effective use of these funds, whether for building projects, endowed professorships, or scholarships, motivates donors to continue their support. Additionally, a successful investment strategy led by excellent leadership has been key to sustaining and growing the endowment.

Effective Communication and Inclusivity
Monk’s philosophy of leadership also includes a strong emphasis on effective communication and inclusivity. He regularly visited different units within the university to gather feedback and ensure that everyone understood the
institution’s mission. “One of the things that I tried to do was visit the different units, particularly on the academic side, but also elsewhere each year to get feedback,” he shared. This practice reinforced the central purposes of the institution and helped create a cohesive and inclusive environment.

Monk believes in the power of small, consistent actions to foster a sense of belonging and appreciation among all members of the university community. He made a point to recognize and honor the contributions of those in less visible roles, such as laundry workers, janitors, and dining hall staff. “I paid special attention to the people that were the lowest on the pecking order… people like the ones who work in the laundry, or the maids and janitors, or the dining hall workers or whatever. They’re all really important,” he said. By doing so, he ensured that everyone felt valued and integral to the success of the institution.

Father Edward “Monk” Malloy’s leadership at Notre Dame offers valuable lessons for anyone interested in fostering a positive and effective organizational culture. His unwavering focus on people, commitment to free speech and safety, strategic fundraising and investment, and emphasis on effective communication and
inclusivity are principles that can be applied across various sectors. As he eloquently put it, “For me, people are everything. We wouldn’t exist without people.” This people-first approach is at the heart of his leadership philosophy and serves as a guiding light for leaders everywhere.

To listen to the full interview or read the transcript, just click here.

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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