Commentary: Leadership lessons from ‘New Amsterdam’

By Nicola Blake

Navigating the complex landscape of higher education requires more than administrative prowess; it demands a leadership style steeped in empathy, transparency and a commitment to holistic growth.

By transcending typical modes of authority, true academic leaders dedicate themselves to understanding, supporting and nurturing individuals within the academic ecosystem. These lessons are translatable.

Dr. Max Goodwin (the fictional medical director on the TV show “New Amsterdam,” a tumultuous public hospital) navigates challenges akin to those faced in higher education — severe budget constraints, systemic structural/infrastructural challenges and policies (local and state level), and serving communities impacted by institutionalized inequalities. What resonated profoundly — episode after episode — was Max’s unrelenting question, “How can I help?” asked of all constituents and of all situations.

It’s not about control

Translating this mantra into action involves approaching conversations not merely as an administrator but as a listener and an advocate. Shifting focus from merely solving problems to truly understanding what a faculty or staff member is trying to communicate demands an openness to new perspectives, even in the most challenging dialogues.

True leadership isn’t about control; it’s about recognizing the privilege of influence and using it to alleviate burdens while nurturing a supportive environment. While immediate solutions may not always be apparent or even possible, the impact of empathetic listening, coupled with genuine assistance, often brings some solace, understanding and fosters a supportive community.

And this by no means indicates that issues will be resolved or compromises will be made. It simply assures all parties that the path to decisions, even ones that may not be favorable, will be delivered in an environment where an earnest attempt towards listening has been made in a space of respect and civility.

Serve to inspire and support

In our roles as leaders, we don’t just steer institutions; we nurture aspirations, support dreams and forge paths toward inclusive excellence. We foster cultures of shared responsibility and mutual respect by amplifying the voices of colleagues relying on leadership to navigate the intricate landscape of higher education.

Embracing the seemingly simple yet profoundly impactful question, “How can I help?” cultivates a transformative leadership style rooted in empathy, understanding, and an unwavering commitment to fostering a thriving, more inclusive academic community.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.


Nicola Blake

Dr. Nicola Blake is interim provost and vice president at Guttman Community College in New York City, and a Complete College America Fellow.