‘Tis the season of high profile “steps down” as well as interim and late appointments. A google search of “dean steps down” (search results here) reveals a number of smooth and not so smooth cases, but the news in these postings for new appointees is that academic leadership can be rewarding or fraught with career danger, depending upon how the new position is approached.
One of the difficulties in assuming academic leadership (or assuming higher academic leadership) is that so little effort is expended by academic institutions in the development of their leaders. It is widely known that the private sector invests enormous amounts in leadership development–General Electric is a good example–but the seriousness of, for example, the US Federal government in developing leaders is less well known.
This was driven home to me in emotionally salient style, when I took training as a leadership coach at Georgetown University (here), When I enrolled in class, I was struck by three things. First, I was surprised to see coach trainees from so many representatives of the Federal alphabet soup of agencies (FBI, CIA, NIST, State Department, and on and on), Second, I was surprised to learn how many of these agencies regularly engaged OD consultants and executive coaches to help develop their organizations and their leaders. Third, I was one of only two members of the 35-person cohort who worked for a major university, and both of us had already made the decision to leave the university.
If you look around major universities and colleges, they all have human resource departments, but those departments are more tactical and bureaucratic than strategic and developmental, and you have to look really hard to find anything even remotely constituting organizational development (OD) or leadership development in the academic world. One happy exception to this rule is Michigan State University’s FOD or Faculty and Organizational Development unit (here), but the rising academic leader at most organization has poor or no choices when it comes to furthering his or her own growth as a leader within the extant organizational structure.
This lack of intentionality on the part of universities in developing their leaders is a double whammy for the leaders themselves. The new or rising academic leader is usually chosen for his or her disciplinary expertise, an expertise that is often developed by singleminded concentration on research and scholarship, something that doesn’t usually leave much time for studying up on the latest in administration, management, and administration. This lack of intention by the organization and lack of preparation by the candidate, is especially difficult, because universities are notoriously difficult organizations to lead, and much of what is written in the private sector about leadership does not apply directly.
Read The First 90 Days. Read Michael Watkins book on job transitions, The First 90 Days (here). This book has both nice strategic models and tactical advice about how to navigate the change. One of the most important pieces of advice is to promote yourself, that is to not think of yourself as having the same role as before, and to reflect carefully about what that means.
Read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Read master executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith’s take (link here) on the key ways in which you need to think differently about the skill set you require moving forward.
Hire an executive coach. You’ve taken the job, you don’t have time to go for an MBA or other leadership training, and you’ve got a department or college to run, so now what do you do? One of the fastest and most effective ways to develop your leadership skill is get a coach. Coaching is hot, but it is not mentoring, or consulting, or advice giving (see a related 3joy post here). Instead coaching provides you with a skilled practitioner to notice, listen, and question (NLQ) and help you find your own leadership style in your own context with a minimum of disruption and maximum of help. Coaches can work with you & your situation, they can believe in your resourcefulness, creativity, and integrity, provide just-in-time & relevant resources for reflection and action, ask you the tough questions that the situation demands, and listen to your reflections to help forward your progress.
To get more helpful resources for the new or rising academic leader, to find out more about leadership coaching in an academic context, or to schedule a complimentary introductory coaching session, write to Dave Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.