The college presidency, Mark Twain once said, is the “greatest of all callings” for its potential to shape young minds. It is certainly not the easiest calling today. The responsibilities and challenges beyond the ”day job” of running the institution are immense. Nearly half of presidents say they lack time to think and reflect, according to the American Council on Education’s most recent American College Presidents Study.
Yet time to reflect is critical for presidents in an era of tremendous flux in higher education, with each institution plotting its future course without confidence in what academia will look like in 10 or 20 years. For the college president, dealing with ambiguity, absorbing new skills and technologies, and adapting to change can’t be done within the space of policy meetings, planning sessions, donor lunches, or sporting events.
A new source of help
For this reason, some presidents are turning to coaching as a space to breathe, think, and reflect. Coaches can also help a president to learn the ropes of a new position, obtain skills, think through issues, shape strategy, or just to have an objective, sympathetic ear. Executive coaching has been a tried-and-true means of professional support in the corporate sector. It makes sense in an academic setting in which contemplation and reasoned decision-making are valued.
Are presidents receptive to coaching? Most are, according to a survey of sitting presidents recently conducted by my firm. In it, we polled more than 60 sitting presidents on their experience with, and thoughts about, leadership coaching. More than half of these had experienced coaching at some point in their administrative careers. In most cases it was their own choice, though some noted that their board chair or other party had recommended it. The overwhelming response from these individuals was that it was a positive experience and one that they would enthusiastically recommend to others.