30 Apr

An extraordinary time to be well-led

Last week was the spring conference for CASE Indiana (Council for Advancement and Support of Education).  I joined the I-CASE board last year, and (even though I’m now biased) I think the programming at the fall and spring I-CASE conferences is really solid.

Bob Sevier, senior vice president, strategy, at Stamats, keynoted the conference with “Institutional Vulnerability and Strategic Responses in Today’s Market.”  He described the state of higher education as a “perfect storm,” with a confluence of factors such as changing demography, rising cost to attend, increased competition for students and donated dollars, and duress in the economy among students, families, donors, and creditors.

At the same time, it is an “extraordinary time to be a well-led institution.” Dr. Sevier is right; the issues and the opportunities are significant.

Of institutions that have experienced true turnarounds (examples being Elon, USC, and NYU), he said that those colleges had six common denominators:

  • Great leadership
  • Strong senior team
  • Compelling vision
  • Board support
  • Ability to raise money
  • Willingness to stay the course

Let’s talk more about leadership.  Sevier’s comments here were right on target and reminded me of the eduWeb Conference 2009 keynote by Brian Niles of TargetX.  The following principles are relevant whether you are leading a university or an office.

Good leaders develop a compelling vision. More than ever, your vision must be galvanizing, differentiating, and compelling.  (Sevier talked at length about the need to differentiate yourself from competitors in ways that target audiences value.)  He recommended Visionary Leadership as the only book to read about vision.  The author, Burt Nanus, defines vision as a “realistic, credible, and attractive future” share by members of an organization.  Does your institution’s vision have such gravity that it attracts both great leaders and exceptional followers – a talented senior team, faculty and staff, students, and donors?  Speaking of faculty and staff, do they even know, understand, and support the vision, or are we just assuming that they do?

Good leaders build the team. Effective leaders cultivate exceptional followers.  Followers and leaders both orbit around the organization’s purpose; followers do not orbit around the leader.  Sevier added that one of the greatest predictors of institutional success is whether or not the senior team is truly a team.  Do members of your senior team work from a shared set of goals?  Do they openly debate and then consistently support – both privately and publicly – the decisions made by the senior team?  Do they require their middle managers to support the goals of the other senior team members?  Are they committed to one another’s success?

Great leaders find ways to reward the people who are indispensable. Keep in mind that people whom you need most are likely being courted by others.  Do you know what motivates your best people?

Good leaders also cut unproductive areas to preserve and resource areas that are more productive. Is your institution among the many faced with budget cuts?  If so, are the cuts being made evenly across-the-board or strategically? Are you still investing in revenue-generating areas such as recruitment, retention, advancement, and new programs?

Good leaders stress outcomes and not output. It’s all about results.

Good leaders decide. Make the decision.  Don’t delay; the worst decision is not making the decision.

The University Advancement blog will bring much more on the topic of leadership with upcoming reviews of Tribes and Transforming a College.


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