What it takes to be a successful dean


4 things deans should do to be more entrepreneurial

Our analysis revealed that successful deans possess a mix of qualities that enable them to excel as “academic entrepreneur.” Deans are differentiated from their corporate counterparts in several statistically significant areas; they are more likely to be:

▪ Conceptual and creative: Their proclivity for conceptual and creative thinking is both a prerequisite for success within academia and increasingly vital to succeeding within responsibility-centered management systems, which incentivize the discovery of new revenue streams and require the ability to raise funds while balancing a budget. Deans were 28 percent more likely than corporate executives to demonstrate these qualities, which include measures such as an interest in abstract concepts, the ability to generate new ideas, and a lower likelihood of being preoccupied by detail.

▪ Cooperative yet non-conforming: An intriguing tension at the core of our best-in-class profile, deans are both more cooperative and less conforming than their corporate counterparts. On the one hand, they are more likely to involve others in decision-making, avoid conflict, accept different views, and see participation as more important than winning. On the other hand, they are also more likely to follow their own agenda, see deadlines as flexible, and be less restricted by rules and procedures. This combination is particularly potent for the academic entrepreneur, who must drive consensus and generate buy-in while, at the same time, be willing to buck convention and innovate within existing models.

▪ Relaxed and calm: The tension between deans’ non-conforming and consensus-building tendencies may be mitigated by the fact that they also tend to be more level-headed, like to take things at a steady pace, and are content to meet challenges as they come. This proclivity for tranquility is no doubt an asset when pursuing key responsibilities such as mitigating faculty politics and promoting harmony within the wider matrixed organization, two of the more traditional dean responsibilities that remain imperative to the role, despite its evolution.

▪ Socially reserved and sensitive: In what may be one of the few areas in which they are less naturally equipped for the shift in their mandate, deans tend to be more socially reserved and likely to enjoy alone time. Given that many are increasingly positioned as the “face” of the college, having to lead fundraising and public engagement efforts, the most successful deans “learn” extroversion and leverage their natural sensitivity and compassion to build relationships with students, faculty, and donors alike.

Aspiring deans in possession of these traits will find the transition to “academic entrepreneur” easier, as their natural inclinations support the increasingly varied demands of the job. However, these innate attributes must be complemented by experience in the areas of the dean role that are fundamentally different from the typical professorship.

Prospective deans should seek the following development opportunities to build their entrepreneurial “muscles”:

▪ Whether through a chair role, an associate dean role or a university-level opportunity, look for leadership experiences that will help develop the more commercial competencies increasingly being asked of deans.

▪ Similarly, look for opportunities to be involved in nontraditional ventures, including the development of external partnerships or the commercialization of academic research, to help demonstrate entrepreneurial thinking.

Contributing to college- or campus-level change initiatives, such as the development of new program offerings or overhaul of diversity and inclusion policies, provides opportunity to demonstrate the ability to articulate a vision, generate buy-in, and deliver results.

▪ Although sometimes anathema to the typical academic, getting more involved in fundraising efforts will expose prospective deans to the challenges and nuances of one of the most important dean duties.

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