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Academic Leaders

woman writerAs an academic leader, you have even greater demands on your time and less control of your schedule than your faculty counterparts. To excel, you must articulate a compelling vision coupled with an effective strategy and obtain the buy-in of a variety of stakeholders, including many over whom you have limited authority.

As a department chair, you are charged with leading from the middle, balancing the concerns of the faculty members, students, and staff with the expectations of the dean and the needs of the institution. You depend on the support of your staff and the cooperation of faculty members to do their share in the work of running the department. However, your title may add significant responsibility without providing corresponding authority, especially among senior faculty members who, at best, consider you to be a “first among equals.” Even the staff members on whom you rely may report to an administrative lead rather than directly to you.

As dean, it takes considerable savvy to forward your vision for the school while simultaneously navigating the competing interests of your department chairs, faculty, students, alumni, donors, the provost, and the president. It is imperative that you can depend on your leadership team, however, you are likely to encounter personnel challenges within your staff, your faculty leadership group, or both. You must uphold the policies of the president or provost, even when you disagree, and make tough decisions that are not always popular with one or more of your constituencies. Your every word and expression seem to be amplified by those around you, but you have few people with whom you can fully confide.

ArchwayAs associate dean or deputy provost, even former faculty colleagues who you consider to be friends may start to challenge your motives, suddenly seeing you as the face of the administration rather than as “one of us.” This dynamic is exacerbated when you are not at liberty to share all of the information to which you are privy. With a supportive dean, you are positively enabled to make meaningful changes. With a less-than-supportive dean, the role becomes exponentially more difficult. Regardless, you will not always see eye to eye, and the dean makes the final call.

In coaching, we provide higher education leaders with a confidential space to talk through the challenges you face. We work with chairs, deans, associate deans, deputy provosts, divisional directors, and center directors, and we support leaders to:

  • Clarify your personal and organizational mission and short- and long-term goals
  • Create cultures of diversity and excellence
  • Expertly negotiate for the staff, budget, and buy-in you need to implement your vision for the department, school or institution
  • Delegate effectively
  • Manage difficult relationships at all levels
  • Ensure adequate time for family, friends, and personal wellness
  • Maintain and advance your own scholarship
  • Nurture a strong sense of intellectual community
  • Run equitable and inclusive search and promotion processes
  • Strategically plan and carry out organizational change efforts
  • Carve out time for big picture thinking and planning
  • Navigate the challenges that come with holding positional leadership but also having one or more marginalized social identities
  • Build alliances across the university and with donors and other stakeholders
  • Prepare for the next level of leadership

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What They’re Saying

“Cutting budgets is still hard, but now I explain that I can’t change the facts, but I can help to think through how to do this in the way that causes the least harm to the department, so let’s focus on that.”

– Dean at a major research university

“I carried out the strategy we planned for the committee that had been so acrimonious, and the meeting went smoothly!”

– Recently appointed Associate Dean

“When I started this role, it was an uphill climb, but now I’m optimistic. We got the building plan approved, we have a start at creating a new department in our school, and we’ve finally brought into being the trustees’ vision to strengthen our school and make it more central to the university.”

– Professional School Dean