The future of higher education depends on succession planning. An institution that is healthy and thriving today won’t sustain without insightful leaders to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Leaders must attend to the current moment as well as long-term challenges and opportunities.
I have worked in higher education for decades, first in faculty and within administrative roles and now on a consulting basis, serving the diverse needs of today’s colleges and universities with experienced perspective, strategic coaching and often for helping to find the right leaders capable of taking an organization into future growth and meeting its established goals.
Unexpected openings are a reality of higher education. However, they must not be the only way an institution selects its leaders. The alarm bells of urgency do not allow for the reflection that long-term planning requires.
Because of the many demands placed on leaders in higher education, many presidents, boards, and provosts are reactive, responding to the myriad challenges before them. A defensive posture may win the battle, but lose the war. Engaged leaders hold a vision for the future that compels them to be proactive. They implement strategies that move the mission and values of an institution forward.
The threats facing higher education are multiplying. Colleges must consider the educational climate, analyze enrollment trends, address funding gaps, evaluate entrenched approaches, and innovate programs. Uniting all of these challenges is the need for skilled leaders. Leaders are the foundation upon which we build the future.
The Grass Isn’t Always Greener on the Other Side
Socrates’ maxim “the unexamined life is not worth living” has application beyond existential musing. Introspection is essential to success. Before filling a leadership position, search committees must identify and evaluate their assumptions.
One common bias is that an outside hire is overwhelmingly the best option. At times, fresh perspective of an outside hire can bring needed insight. However, outside hires automatically start with a handicap, because they have to first learn the culture and values of an institution. Your college has a unique history and legacy that invigorates its activities and culture. Existing members of your team are already inculcated with your values. They understand the past victories and pressing challenges of your organization.
Through succession planning, you can cultivate the leaders your college needs with the benefit of a strong sense of institutional continuity. Succession planning bolsters a clear understanding of mission and values—which is paramount in our current educational climate.
Secure Leaders Leave the Strongest Legacies
Succession planning requires coordinated planning and individual investment. Many of us operate under the faulty assumption that we can’t be replaced. Make no mistake: you will be replaced. Through intentional mentoring, you have a say in what kind of leader succeeds you. This includes not only their skills and competency, but priorities and values.
Mentors teach colleagues what to do, as well as how and why we do them. Such mentoring is driven by a commitment to the mission of your institution that eclipses personal ambition. Leaders that have the good of their institution at heart aren’t worried that a mentee might outshine them. They won’t be sidetracked by petty jealousy or pet projects. A secure leader fosters investment in those around them. When members of your team know that you have their best interests at heart, they will give their all. If subordinates understand that you are more concerned with your ego than with the team and organization’s well-being, it will sour outcomes and fracture your team. Succession planning gives leaders the satisfaction of leaving an organization healthier than when they began. There is no better way to build a lasting legacy.
You Can Start Today
Whether your institution has a developed succession planning strategy or is starting from square one, there are steps you can take today to strengthen your approach and invest in the future of your organization through cultivating leaders.
Returning to Socrates’ axiom, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Before you can act, you must reflect.
To move forward with succession planning, take stock of your efforts and opportunities. There are many forms this contemplation can take, from intentional conversations with colleagues at other institutions to a working group tasked with taking stock. As an experienced search firm specialized in higher education and executive coaching, Hyatt-Fennell has found it helpful to create a quiz that enables our clients to inventory their current approach and identify areas of growth. Awareness and intention are the vital first steps to succession planning that will enable your organization to thrive for generations to come.
- Generative AI can enhance equity of access and attainment - December 7, 2023
- The academic implications of AI in student writing - December 5, 2023
- New program aims to train more male educators of color - December 4, 2023