leadership behaviors September 6, 2018

Leadership Behaviors Improving the Likelihood of Academic Affairs Success

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One of the biggest problems with the general applicability of current leadership theories and successful practices has been that leaders applying their successful behaviors, traits, and dispositions in one academic community do not replicate that same success in another academic position or even in a different time period in the same institution. This strongly suggests that other factors—such as organizational setting, organizational history, informal leaders, the nature of problems to be addressed, institutional readiness for change, and the style and success of previous leaders, especially the preceding leader—are equally or more decisive for leadership success.


Aphorisms for Academic Affairs July 17, 2018

Aphorisms for Academic Affairs

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Over the years, I have realized that most of the preparation for academic leadership is focused on how to effect institutional change and make a positive difference. These certainly are the “big ticket” items. The truth is, however, that such broad topics don’t really hit on the blocking and tackling of daily management. With that in mind, here is a little collective wisdom that may prove especially useful for those who are beginning their journey in academic affairs.


leadership June 25, 2018

Congratulations—You Are a Leader! Now What?

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Whether you are new to the school or moving into a position of leadership with more responsibility in your current department, there are some things to keep in mind for a smooth transition. In either situation, the work of a leader is not easy. Shifting from being a member of a team within a department to being the leader of those same people can be complex. Similarly, joining an existing team as an outsider can pose a comparable challenge. The potential for pitfalls exists in either situation; however, there is also potential for significant gains on all sides.



Locating the Academic Leadership Land Mines February 2, 2018

Locating the (Leadership) Land Mines

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Beginning a position as an academic leader can be challenging under any circumstances. But those challenges increase exponentially when you’re hired into an institution from the outside. You enter a world where nearly everyone knows more about most local issues than you do. Alliances have already been formed. Coalitions that stand in opposition to those alliances have emerged. People have strong opinions about what should and shouldn’t be done, and they all have plenty of evidence to support their views. How do you know whom to believe and whom to regard with a bit of skepticism? If you make the wrong choice on an important enough issue, it can make it much harder to accomplish the goals you’ve set for yourself. You can find that people mistakenly believe you’re aligned with this or that faction, causing them to interpret everything you say with a certain degree of distrust. Even in the best of circumstances, being in academic leadership can sometimes feel as though you’re constantly trying to negotiate your way through a minefield. But how do you locate the land mines in new and unfamiliar terrain?


Academic leadership lessons November 20, 2017

Lessons from an Interim K–12 Principal

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The superintendent of schools called me at 9:00 p.m. on August 13. “Can you come and be an interim principal? My principal left on short notice, and I need an experienced K–12 principal starting in September.” “Are you crazy?” I said. “The fall semester starts August 24th!”

As we talked some more, I became intrigued with the idea of being a principal again. I had served as a principal at that school eight years earlier and greatly enjoyed the work. Moving on from there, I had worked as a superintendent of schools before retiring from school administration and then becoming a professor of educational leadership at Virginia Tech. In addition to enjoying working with students, teachers, and community members, I was an assistant professor of educational leadership, after all. I should be able to do what I profess to my graduate students!
My program leader agreed and said that she would run the idea by our faculty chair. If he agreed, she said that she would promptly work on finding highly competent adjuncts to take my place. He did, and she did. I applied for an unpaid leave of absence, and my request made it through the director of the School of Education, the dean, and finally a vice president.


Strategic autonomy November 3, 2017

Fostering Strategic Autonomy

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In geopolitical terms, the phrase strategic autonomy is often used to describe the desire of countries such as India and Turkey to negotiate treaties and engage in military activities without regard for the dictates of a stronger ally or superpower. In corporate or academic terms, strategic autonomy (along with its less mellifluous cousins autonomous strategic action and skunkworks) refers to a leadership philosophy that empowers individuals or small groups to engage periodically in activities that lie outside the scope of the institution’s strategic plan. (See, for example, http://tinyurl.com/lff84l8.) Strategic autonomy is common practice at businesses such as 3M, Hewlett-Packard, and Google, where employees are permitted to devote a certain portion of their time—typically 10 to 20 percent—to whatever they feel like doing. (See http://tinyurl.com/k8ktpvn.)


delegation of duties October 27, 2017

How an Academic Leader Changes a Lightbulb

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The very first house I bought was a condominium, and the purchase price included 10 hours of service by an electrician. The idea was that each owner would want to customize the unit with special lighting fixtures and built-in appliances, and covering the cost of the electrician was intended to be a selling point. I was just starting out as a college professor and far too strapped for cash to afford luxuries like special fixtures and appliances, so my 10 hours of included service lasted me for several years. Each time one of my unit’s floodlights would burn out, rather than climbing up on a ladder myself, I’d call the manager’s office and have the electrician come do it for me. After having done so four or five times, I heard the manager sigh and say, “You know, an electrician is certainly capable of changing lightbulbs; it just seems to me that you’re wasting a perfectly fine electrician by having him do so.”


University as business October 11, 2017

The Wrong Way to Talk about Higher Ed

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Picture a day when you’ve gathered your faculty together to have a substantive conversation about some pressing issue facing the institution. You explain the situation using terms such as revenue, the business of education, efficiencies, degree production, throughput, and the like. This may seem sensible given that, in part, universities function like businesses. As with our counterparts in the for-profit corporate world, we in education experience the reality of balancing budgets and making tough choices about how to steward limited financial resources.


Preparing Academic Leaders September 25, 2017

Best Practices in Preparing Academic Leaders

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It’s increasingly common for colleges and universities to offer programs designed to help chairs, deans, and other academic leaders become more effective. Sometimes falling under a center for teaching and learning, at other times existing as an independent office for leadership and professional development, these programs reflect the recognition that college administrators often come to their jobs woefully underprepared for their responsibilities. How can institutions know whether their academic leadership initiatives are worth the resources they require? Here are five practices commonly followed by successful leadership training programs.