It’s no secret that the field of higher education is experiencing significant and sustained disruption. Cuts to government funding, proliferation of lower-cost models, and increasing costs of wooing high-demand students are applying pressure to universities’ top- and bottom-line growth. Accordingly, the expectations of the dean role have also evolved, with successful colleges no longer looking for the “super faculty member” who can oversee curriculum development and tenure decisions, but rather the “academic entrepreneur” capable of directing fundraising, managing the P&L, and driving the diversification of revenue streams.

Today’s deans are therefore more akin to “mini-CEOs,” who must possess business acumen, strong interpersonal skills, and an entrepreneurial outlook. This is a tall order in the unique cultural context of academia, where highly matrixed shared governance structures and tenure systems deprive deans of much of the decision-making autonomy enjoyed by their corporate counterparts.

How to become a more entrepreneurial dean

To understand whether today’s cadre of deans have the attributes necessary to succeed in this new leadership paradigm, Russell Reynolds Associates asked 15 deans from leading R1 institutions to complete well-validated psychometric assessments that focus on behavioral characteristics relevant to leadership roles. We aggregated their psychometric profiles and compared them to our database of more than 3,500 corporate and nonprofit executives, enabling us to identify the ways in which today’s deans resemble and diverge from their counterparts in other sectors.

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About the Author:

Mirah Horowitz is a consultant in executive search and leadership consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates’ nonprofit practice, with a focus on higher education. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she focuses on identifying senior academic and functional leaders within colleges and universities.


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