Gill R. Hickman
2016 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
Compelling common purpose. These three words are at the core of Gill Robinson Hickman's institution building work in leadership studies, her life, and her research. As one of the inaugural faculty members of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, one of the first institutions in the world with a multidisciplinary faculty devoted to the study of leadership, Hickman joined forces with her colleague to build a leadership studies program from the ground up. A former higher education administrator and professor of public administration, Hickman's background was ideally suited to the early work of structuring Jepson's overall program. At the more granular level, Hickman and her colleagues not only created syllabi, lessons, and lectures from scratch, they had to write the textbooks they needed to teach their courses. Hickman's own publications, Leading Organizations: Perspectives for a New Era and Leading Change in Multiple Contexts, have since become standards in a field that has experienced incredible growth since those first Jepson faculty gathered with their compelling common purpose more than 20 years ago.
Jepson was not the first place Hickman experienced a compelling common purpose. Growing up Black in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights era, Hickman experienced the power of people coming together in common cause to advance the work of change. She witnessed the fruitful outcomes of people of all ages voluntarily giving of themselves to challenge the entrenched system of segregation. Hickman credits this experience with fueling her lifelong passion for collective work and co-creative partnerships. Building from practice into theory, her writing and research into the relationship between leaders and followers in organizations is infused with this idea. Hickman's recent co-creative, co-authored book with Georgia Sorenson, Invisible Leadership, fleshes out this theory and argues that dedication to compelling common purpose or "the charisma of purpose" is the motivating force in leadership. Retired from Jepson, Hickman's work continues to examine the interplay between purpose and leadership.