Think you've got what it takes to be a high-level administrator? Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Lee Gardner shares four tips for those pursuing leadership positions on campus.
Are you a good fit for the job?
The president is a prestigious role in higher education, but it's not right for everyone. Having skills in one area of administration doesn't necessarily mean that one will thrive as the face of an institution.
The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) realized that many presidents who had taken part in its programs for new leaders didn't last very long, which led the organization to create the Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission seminar. Participants think deeply about whether they're cut out for the job, and where they would be best suited to lead.
"There is no generic set of skills that makes you a good president in every setting," says CIC President Richard Ekman. "Being a successful president is very much a matter of fit between the individual and the institution."
Those with presidential aspirations must ask themselves whether the job is right for them—and if they really want that kind of responsibility.
Do you know a little of everything?
Presidents are constantly juggling priorities from all sides: enrollment, facilities, fundraising, marketing, and much more. It's important to become an expert in a wide range of administrative responsibilities, although one "cannot possibly be prepared enough to be a president these days," says Georgia Gwinnett College President Stanley C. Preczewski.
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He advises presidents-in-training to "find out where your strengths are and set them aside. Find out where your lack of knowledge is and expand in those areas, and then integrate those."
Are you ready to learn?
New presidents need to be hands-on, interacting with board members and getting involved with as many different institutional functions as possible. But the process is still very much one of trial and error, regardless of how much effort is invested.
"You really don't learn it until you go out and start working with your board and assembling your team," says Kevin F.F. Quigley, president of Marlboro College.
Can you build relationships?
Professional ties to other college and university presidents are invaluable for leaders in higher education. While it's useful to have someone on call to help navigate administrative matters, sometimes the best ally simply offers an empathetic ear. In challenging situations especially, "relationships matter," Quigley says (Gardner, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/20).
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