Marcia Brown Mintz
CFAR encourages our academic colleagues to see leadership transition opportunities from the perspectives of the rising leaders as well as of the broader organization and to tie these opportunities to strategic goals and campus culture.
Before the start of each academic year, thousands of faculty take up new positions as deans, a transition that brings complicated shifts in focus, responsibilities, and professional identity. Whether hired from outside the institution or appointed from within the ranks, new deans can benefit from well-designed and rich orientation programs and ongoing leadership development experiences that help senior academic leaders grow into their new roles. At CFAR, we encourage these leadership transition opportunities to be seen from the perspectives of the rising leaders as well as of the broader organization and to tie these programs to strategic goals and campus culture.
Deans and other senior academic leaders are essential to the success of their college or university. Their influence extends within, across, and beyond the academic units which they lead, and they ensure the alignment of unit-level work with the overall academic strategy and work of the provost and president. Appreciation of this expansive leadership role highlights the importance of comprehensive orientation programming for newly appointed academic leaders to support the transition into new roles as well as the continuation of leadership development.
There are a few principles and components for designing orientation and leadership development programs—distinguished by customization, integration, and continuity—that attend to the characteristics of the individuals, the leadership teams, and the institution’s own setting. These programs sustain deans and other academic leaders, individually and as team members, through structured learning experiences and guided reflection over an extended period as participants mature as leaders, acquire greater influence in their roles, and gain and put into practice new insights.
Programming. Activities for new deans and academic leaders can be organized in two complementary programs, with distinct streams of activities and goals and with content tailored to participants’ experiences in the context of the organization’s situation and culture:
Orientation with a focus on the college or university
Ongoing leadership development
It can be helpful to design these programs with three features in mind:
- Recognize orientation as an opportunity to begin the important process of internalizing the institution’s unique history; culture and strategy; and the system of its local, regional, and global relationships.
- Conceive of a continuum of learning and organizational development extending from the initial transition into position through maturing leadership and eventually succession.
- Support partnerships among the deans and other leaders to enrich their individual and collective leadership capacities and to leverage individual strengths, expertise, and perspectives for the benefit of all.
For example, at the institutional level, orientation can be designed to cover key introductions, institutional context, and encounters relevant to the first year in a new position, organized in seven categories:
At the school or unit level, orientation can include structured meetings with associate deans, department chairs, program heads, and other groups appropriate to the academic unit, along with introductions to the faculty, staff, and students. These initial interactions pave the way for later listening tours.
Across the academic units, other deans and senior colleagues can provide additional institutional context and support through regularly scheduled meetings and building of professional relationships among the group of colleagues.
More broadly, introductions can be arranged with those representing key external relationships. These might be facilitated by the provost’s or president’s offices, faculty colleagues, and professional colleagues and partners in the government, civic, and business communities.
Orientation can also organically extend into a longer-term leadership development program. The program can be distinguished by its content, format, and coordinated design tailored for the individuals, the leadership team, and the institution. It can draw on several learning modalities, in-person and virtual (synchronous and asynchronous):
A leadership development program’s content can be customized to include a relevant selection of topics on institutional strategy, leading high-performing teams, program development, working across boundaries, and understanding culture and leading change, among others. The programming can be integrated as applicable with the academic strategy and the academic units’ operations and priorities. A continuing program of leadership development activity presents the opportunity to implement program evaluation, and participants can arrange individualized development plans and ongoing feedback through professional coaching.
There are a number of highly regarded off-site workshops and executive education programs offered through professional associations and business schools that complement and can be incorporated as elements of the programs outlined here. However, the continuity, individualized attention, and integration with the college or university’s own culture, setting, and priorities are all defining features of distinctive on-campus leadership programs that no off-site offering can replicate.