Tag Archive for: tenure


5 Times in a Career When Academics Should Hire a Coach

The use of executive or leadership coaches has become an accepted and widespread practice in private corporations, non-profits, and government, and the reasons are becoming clearer (here). When individuals are coached, they become more effective at work and at home with notable improvements in both their task & relationship orientation; organizations become more productive with coaching returning $5-$7 for every $1 spent.  

By counter distinction, the use of coaches in academic life–for that matter, the use of any kind of systematic organizational development (OD)–is virtually unknown inside the university.  With the many pressures for change that universities are now facing, both economically and technologically, there are good reasons to believe that this is about to change.  While universities and colleges come to grips with changes enveloping them, individual staff, professors, and administrators may want to consider the why and when of hiring a personal coach to help advance their careers and their lives.

Coaching, It’s Not What You Think

Those unfamiliar with coaching sometimes think that coaching is a form of consulting, mentoring, or advice giving, but at it’s best, coaching is a form of one-on-one inquiry and reflection in which the client is aided by the coaches listening and asking questions in ways that help the client find and overcome obstacles and then identify and realize possibilities.  

The coach works to support only the client’s agenda, starting wherever he or she is; the coach comes to the engagement without judgment or any ideal sense of what the client should or should not be doing. In this way, the client can safely explore his or her own authentic path, style, and career in a safe, supportive environment.  

Compared to other kinds of OD interventions such as training and group facilitation, coaching is especially well suited to the highly competitive and  individualistic nature of the academy.  The confidentiality of the coaching relationship creates a safe haven for sharing hopes and concerns, successes and breakdowns, and possibilities and aspirations.

5 Times Coaching May Be Helpful in an Academic Career

There are at least five times in an academic career, when hiring a coach might be beneficial to an academic:

You’re thinking about becoming an academic.  Getting a PhD or other terminal graduate degree is a major commitment, and academic life is not for everyone. Consulting a career coach at the onset of the academic journey can both avoid a potentially costly and emotionally devastating decision and set sail with clear, aligned, and realistic expectations, intentions, and aspirations.

You’ve taken your first academic job.  Congratulations, you’re a newly minted assistant prof and you’re eager to get started on your teaching and research, but the road to tenure is filled with many difficulty decisions. Moreover, your dean, department head, and colleagues will offer you much well intentioned advice, but how do you maximize your chances of succeeding and still stay true to your original aspirations and intentions?  Consulting a coach at this stage in your career gives you a safe means of exploring your challenges and opportunities with someone who has only your interest at heart. 

You’ve been promoted or received tenure (or denied promotion or tenure).  The career ladder as a professor only has three rungs, and each promotion can be a major life transition.  The transition from assistant to associate prof is usually accompanied by tenure, and the moment of getting to tenure can be disorienting.  Should you continue on the same trajectory?  Is it time to think about an adminstrative role?  What’s next?  These are some of the questions that beg answers upon receiving tenure, and a coach can be helpful to asking those pertinent to your circumstances and to finding your own answers.  Denial of tenure is a difficult transition, and universities and colleagues provide little or no support.  A coach can help you put the event in proper perspective and find a path aligned with where you now are.  Denial of promotion to full professor is another difficult case, and a coach can be especially helpful in finding perspective and next steps.

You’ve taken a new administrative post. Transitioning into administration can be quite a shock to the system, and even transitioning up the ranks from head or chair, to dean, to provost, and president can be challenging as each new post is quite different from the one vacated.  Administrative postings and promotions are opportune times to hire a coach to help with the challenges of the new position and to prepare for subsequent advancement by building skill and developing in ways that align with the new post and the next.

You’re preparing to leave the university.  Perhaps you’ve decided that it’s time to move on, start a company, become a consultant, take a position in the private sector, or retire.  These transitions are to get the good questions and listening of a coach to help draw out the best in what comes next.

These five times are good ones to think about finding and using the services of a coach.  The next section puts forward a number of open-ended questions to help in your quest for your coach.

Finding Your Coach

So perhaps you’re at an academic transition when a coach might be useful to you.  How do you find one aligned with your needs?  Here are some questions to consider in hiring a coach:

  1. What training and qualifications does the person bring to their coaching?
  2. To what extent does the person have academic experience and understand academic culture?
  3. To what extent is the potential coach curious about you, your obstacles, your opportunities & to what extent do they seem to have a method or an answer?
  4. To what extend do you feel comfortable with the potential coach, and to what extent is it easy or hard to share private information with him or her?
  5. To what extent does the coach ask questions that engage your reflection and are both hard and interesting to answer?
  6. To what extent does the coach seem to listen to you and “get you” through that listening?
  7. Given that universities do not yet pay for coaching, to what extent does the coach accommodate those who are paying out of their own pockets?

A good source of information about coaching and coaches is International Coach Federation, and these days there is much other information online.  If you’d like to learn more about coaching with ThreeJoy, write to Dave Goldberg at deg@threejoy.com

Getting to Tenure and Having a Life?

I subscribe to a number of LinkedIn groups, and one of them is the group Higher Education Teaching and Learning (here).  The other day, I noticed an inquiry from a consultant and coach named Meggin McIntosh (here) in which she inquired as follows:

Is it possible to balance teaching, research, service AND a relationship while on the way to tenure? If so, how (real answers wanted).

As might be imagined, the answers were quite various ranging from “no” to “yes” with “maybe” in between.  I weighed in in the affirmative as follows.  In doing so, I imagined addressing the tenure seeker directly one on one:

I think the answer is “yes” and I think there is a threefold success formula: (1) form habitual practices around those things and people that are important to you (2) do a minimally acceptable job preparing for teaching first time through, thereby giving you maximum probability of satisfying your institution’s research requirements to tenure, and (3) do your research and writing to please yourself, not for the approval of others..

The fundamental problem is that any one of the Big 3–research, teaching, and service–can consume all available time in your life. Stephen Covey made the distinction between urgent things, things important to others, and important things, things important to you. The Big 3, particularly research is urgent, important to the university, but in the pressure cooker of pretenure university life, make things important to you, spending time with a partner, kids, and friends, a habit. Make other important-to-you non-work related activities–sports, exercise, eating right, music, hobbies–habitual, and sacrifice your habits only upon rare occasion. Charles Duhigg’s, The Power of Habit, is a nice reference for the value, formation, and maintenance of habitual practices.

Second, when it comes to teaching, first time through a course, give yourself enough time to prepare, but make it a fixed amount of time (x hours per class period, for example). Don’t allow your perfectionist tendencies to take over. Stick to your fixed time allocation. Also, capture and reuse your notes next time through. If you follow this prescription, most days, you will do fine. Some days, you will be underprepared, but second time through you will probably be peak and do well if you haven’t overdone it.

Finally, do your research and writing to make yourself happy. A lot of heads and profs tell you otherwise: do this, and don’t do that, but my experience has been that most of that advice is well intentioned and not tailored to you. Do your research for yourself and your interests with gusto and enthusiasm. View it as “publish and flourish” not “publish or perish” and follow your heart.

Two things can happen if you do this. You will get tenure on your own terms and you will be a happy, confident camper, ready to continue on your own terms. If you don’t get tenure, you will have been true to yourself and perhaps the academy really wasn’t where you were meant to be. You can then move on to something else with integrity knowing that you’ve learned something about yourself.

To do otherwise is to risk unhappiness in two different ways. If you do your research to please others, you might get tenure, but you risk diminished confidence in your own judgment to the possible detriment of your future courage and boldness.  If you don’t get tenure, you’ll always wonder what might have been had you remained true to your own vision, and you may regret not having found out.

Of course, my advice risks not being tailored to you, as I suggested other well-intentioned advice might be, and if that is the case, only use those portions of what’s being suggested here that seem reasonable to you, your aspirations, and your context.

Best wishes in navigating the tricky thicket of getting to tenure.

I don’t think this is a unique “correct” answer, of course, and one’s perspective might vary depending on one’s gender, responsibility at home, desire to pursue a program of research consonant with an institution’s values, and other factors, but to the degree that someone can be disciplined about keeping up habits that maintain strong relationships and the other items mentioned, I do believe one can have a life and get to tenure, both. If you agree or disagree, share your views at deg@threejoy.com.