using stress April 13, 2018

Using Stress to Create Change, Just as Nature Intended

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Organizations are often anthropomorphized— attributed with the characteristics of living things. One might describe an organization as strong or weak. Organizations might be said to flourish or wither. They might be said to experience periods of peace or other periods in which they are under attack and in a position of mortal danger. We might describe an organization as a family or as a team. The stock price of a company may be said to dive or to soar. Organizations are said to be born and, sadly, they often die.




Developing a Leadership Philosophy March 21, 2018

Developing a Leadership Philosophy

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In the busy, sometimes chaotic world of academic leadership, it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by the managerial tasks of the position and not give adequate attention to the broader, more important leadership duties. To be an effective leader, it helps to have a set of principles—a leadership philosophy—to guide your actions and inspire others.


faculty buy-in March 7, 2018

What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Faculty Buy In’

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At a recent meeting with fellow community college administrators, I found myself increasingly bothered by the repeated invocation of a certain term: faculty buy-in. At this particular meeting, the term was included as part of some well-intentioned advice (“If you want this program to succeed at your campus, you absolutely need faculty buy-in.”), as a means to highlight a successful venture (“I was pleased at how quickly we were able to secure faculty buy-in.”), and as a way to underscore the potential pitfalls of moving the college in a certain direction (“Without faculty buy-in, this initiative is doomed to fail.”). Upon reflection, I realized that it was more than just the repetition of the term that bothered me—it was also the actual use of the term itself and what it implies about how faculty members are viewed at many institutions.


deans interpersonal skills February 12, 2018

Deans’ Interpersonal/Negotiating Skills

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The ever-present “revolving door” syndrome, where education deans leave their posts within four to five years, served as the impetus for our research. We wanted to understand what we were doing as veteran deans that enabled us to exhibit a certain degree of resiliency with our job responsibilities. We adapted Eisner’s connoisseurship model (1991, 1998) and served as both a connoisseur and critic of our patterns of behavior over a six-year period. Eisner’s model explains that a connoisseur is able to identify the different dimensions of situations and experiences as well as their relationships. A connoisseur not only appreciates a situation but also critiques the same situation to help others see its subtle and not-so-subtle aspects.


univerisity organizational cultures February 9, 2018

The Two (Organizational) Cultures of the University

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In a now legendary lecture at Cambridge’s Senate House in 1959, C.P. Snow coined the expression “the two cultures” as a way of characterizing what he saw as an increasing rift between science and the humanities in modern academic life. Since Snow’s time, we’ve seen even greater isolation of many disciples that has created the “silo effect” we so often lament as academic leaders. But in addition to this division on the academic side, we also should realize that the complexity of colleges and universities means they sometimes split into two other cultures as well.


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?


Translucent Academic Leadership January 1, 2018

Translucent Academic Leadership in 3 Steps

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At a college meeting I once attended, one of the department chairs accused the dean of not being transparent enough in the way she made decisions. The dean answered that it wasn’t that simple. Confidential matters were sometimes involved. She couldn’t violate the trust of people who had shared certain information with her. She needed to be discreet about personnel issues, and so on. There was a pause, and then the chair asked, “Well, if you can’t be transparent, can you at least be a little more translucent?”


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.