Team of Rivals: Turning Academic Rivals into Academic Teammates


  • Daniel Dustin University of Utah
  • James Murphy San Francisco State University
  • Cary McDonald University of Illinois
  • Brett Wright Clemson University
  • Jack Harper University of Manitoba
  • Gene Lamke San Diego State University



composure, leading by example, self-confidence, teamwork


Higher education increasingly requires teamwork to get the job done. Yet, turning a faculty of independent-minded operators into a team of cooperators and collaborators is a daunting challenge. A reward system that encourages competition for scarce resources makes it even more difficult to motivate faculty to rally around a common cause. In this paper, we draw from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, to discuss what it takes for leaders to get rivals to work together for the good of the order. 

First, we propose that academic leaders do a better job of emphasizing the mutually reinforcing nature of teaching, scholarship, and service in carrying out the University’s purpose, as well as better rewarding different kinds of faculty contributions to that purpose. We reason further that the best way to do this is by cultivating an academic environment that promotes and rewards teamwork. By shifting the administrative focus from an individual orientation to a team orientation, we believe the environment within which faculty members live and work can be made more engaging, rewarding, and productive. 

We then apply four of Lincoln’s leadership qualities: (a) acknowledging when failed policies demand a change in direction, (b) leading by example, (c) understanding the emotional needs of the team, and (d) establishing trust and keeping your word to the challenge of transforming a highly individualistic faculty into an academic team. This requires a clear vision and having all team members understand the bigger picture and their roles and responsibilities in bringing the bigger picture into focus. 

Finally, we discuss the power of teams to accomplish what cannot be accomplished individually, and take the discussion beyond the college campus to include implications for the larger park and recreation profession. What we learn from studying Lincoln is that the key to success rests in a self-assurance that allows leaders to surround themselves with highly competent contrarians while simultaneously persuading them to embrace a unifying vision that serves the best interests of all. 

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Author Biographies

Daniel Dustin, University of Utah


Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism

University of Utah

James Murphy, San Francisco State University

Professor Emeritus

Cary McDonald, University of Illinois

Associate Professor Emeritus

Brett Wright, Clemson University


Jack Harper, University of Manitoba

Associate Professor (retired)

Gene Lamke, San Diego State University

Professor Emeritus





Invited Papers