A CIO describes how leadership can be effective in managing academic governance in a timely manner.
A question that I’m asked in almost every interview is how I handled the transition from being an entrepreneur to working at a small liberal arts college.
Implied is the question: “how did you bear the excruciatingly slow pace of higher-ed governance, when you used to work in fast-paced ‘internet time?’”
There’s a “bumper sticker” answer, and there’s the real answer.
The bumper sticker answer is that the pace of higher-ed decision making allows the ball to slow down so you can see it (to mangle a sports metaphor).
The real answer is that shared governance, as practiced in higher education, is complex; to practice effectively within the academy, it takes time. The time it takes, is the time it takes.
Does that mean that every project and initiative at colleges and universities has to happen at an “academic time” pace?
(Next page: Where shared governance begins and ends)
There are any number of projects and initiatives that can be executed at whatever pace administrators and campus leaders desire to drive them (within the constraints of their budgets and institutional priorities, naturally). I daresay that a lot of innovation on campuses isn’t deterred so much by budgetary restraint or governance as it is by – not apathy, but – the lack of incentive to perform any better. “Atta boy / girl” only goes so far. But I digress.
With all that said, one of the favorite parts of being a CIO at a small liberal arts college was that it was my job to think and act innovatively. By coming to realize precisely where shared governance began and ended, I was able to be effective—owning all the agency my position permitted me to have.
That also carried with it the quite serious responsibility of balancing actions and decisions within the existing structure of shared governance, while still respecting and not breaking faith with the inclusiveness and community of shared governance; not sacrificing trust and amity solely for the urgent pull of delivering high profile projects in accelerated time (as considered by the academy).
Besides, urgency is dictated by the beholder.
In my life as an entrepreneur, my urgent need to be paid on time was not felt as strongly by the accounts payable clerk on whose desk my check had sat for two weeks, unsent. In my “role” as a job seeker, my urgent desire to be in a new job isn’t the same urgency shared by those considering my candidacy.
The time it takes, is the time it takes.
Find a way to be effective in whatever system of governance you find yourself. Or, work as hard as you can to change the system entirely.
Either way, your mastery over the perception of time will influence how effectively you perform on the job, and how satisfied you will be – personally and professionally.
David J. Hinson is principal at Songbird Mobile and the former CIO at Hendrix College.