Higher-ed leadership is full of myriad decisions, challenges, and climbs to achieve positive outcomes for students and faculty.

7 higher-ed leadership priorities

The path to leadership isn't easy, but effective higher-ed leaders can manage challenges and victories with a clear vision of the future

Key points:

Higher-ed leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leading a campus of any size comes with its own share of challenges and dilemmas, along with victories and causes for celebration.

Here, we’re highlighting higher-ed leadership expertise from Cheryl Hyatt, founding partner and CEO of Hyatt – Fennell Executive Search Plus and a regular contributing writer for eCampus News.

Cultivate a workplace culture of gratitude: Complaining is easy, but corrosive to workplace morale, project outcomes, and employee longevity. Far too often, work becomes a space of grumbling, not gratitude. Employees love to complain. Grousing about the boss is a competitive sport in some workplaces. Complaining is easy, but corrosive to workplace morale, project outcomes, and employee longevity. Forging a path to gratitude can take intentionality, but has a direct impact on our quality of life. Thankfulness centers us, reminding us of our values and connections. Dissatisfaction saps our energy. Gratitude fuels us, energizing us for the work before us.

Focus on out-of-the-box ideas: Creative leadership will require unlocking innovative solutions to persistent problems. Complex problems demand creative solutions. Dynamic leaders transform obstacles into opportunities. Far too many institutions in higher education are yawning on the brink of obsolescence because they persist in doing things the same way simply because “we’ve always done it this way.” Insightful leaders are able to marry the wisdom of experience with openness to fresh ideas through a combination of evaluating outcomes, involving others, capitalizing on individual strengths, and not being afraid to fail.

A leadership coach is the secret ingredient: A higher-ed leadership coach is looking at the big picture of your institution and at the bigger picture of higher education as a whole. One fundamental error I often see along the way from leaders in higher education: they try to go solo. You are not performing alone. You may play a leading role, but you are part of a cast that must work together, each person playing their part and supporting the greater storyline. In addition to the actors that the audience sees illumined by the footlights, there is an entire crew working behind the scenes to make the production function smoothly. So, how can you make sure your career isn’t a flop? The difference between a successful production and a woeful failure is a good producer. One of the most under-utilized resources for C-suite leaders in all industries is leadership coaches. If any sector should understand the importance of mentoring and training, it should be higher education. 

Create a positive campus for the new academic year: Your vision for the academic year must be centered on your community and serve them as it takes shape. There are two essential principles to guide you as you seek to create an inspiring campus community and workplace environment in a new academic year. 1. Identify and articulate a unified vision for your campus community. Make this comprehensive, yet concise. It should have implications for your entire campus, yet be accessible and digestible. 2. Empower your community. You must help your community join your vision. Enable members of your community at all levels–students, faculty, support staff, board members, alumni–to identify how their role contributes to your mission.

Identify the leaders you might be missing: Leaders at all levels of your organization should be empowered to invest in developing leaders. Most institutions underestimate and under-utilize one of their core assets: their current staff. Outside hiring is one key strategy, but it is not the only avenue to executive excellence. Internal hires cost less in on-boarding while also bringing invaluable institutional knowledge. When your C-suite leaders have experience at different levels of your organization, they understand historic complexities, appreciate departmental strengths, and can identify opportunities for growth. In order to be an effective talent pipeline, internal hiring is not a one-time decision, but an ongoing strategy to identify, encourage, and propel rising talent. So, how do you spot talent in your midst that may be ready for advancement?

Model mental health for students: When you demonstrate positive mental health practices, you assure students that mental and emotional well-being is possible. Mental health is being recognized as a key area of concern for young people, including on college campuses. Alarmingly, half of college students identify mental struggles as one of their top stressors. The pressure has led 40 percent of undergraduates to consider dropping out. Administrators must find ways to support students holistically. Neglecting mental health needs will have devastating results on your students today and alumni tomorrow.

Know that faculty elitism is hurting your institution: One of the most pernicious ways we undercut the vital work of higher education is through maintaining a culture of faculty elitism. In most colleges there is a stark division between faculty and professional staff. At its worst, that can lead to costly errors from undervaluing the input of others or noxious work environments where professional staff are treated as underlings. Snobbery on college campuses is one of the most counterproductive things we do. This time of reimagining what work can–and should–be is the perfect time to begin to shift this culture of elitism. While cultural change is slow and takes work, there are three simple ways you can begin turning the tide and creating a more equitable workplace: Seek input, share stories, and say thank you.

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Laura Ascione

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