Transitioning to a New Leader

Recently I have supported Boards of Trustees and search committees as they have searched for and selected a new leader for their college or university and then continued the consultation during the transition period. On other occasions newly named leaders have engaged me to support them as they prepared to take office and during their first months as top leader.

These projects are efficient and highly productive, especially now that Trustees typically need and expect a new leader to accomplish specific gains during year one.

Gone are the days, for example, when a new president has a year or so to get to know a campus and consult with faculty about what they hope the institution can accomplish in its next phase. Now it is more usual for Trustees to expect a new leader to develop a plan and move toward productive fundraising in a matter of months.

One important step in this accelerated process is for the new leader to understand at least the top issues that faculty, staff and students aspire to change and what characteristics or practices of the institution they hold dear. Sometimes what we choose to preserve is just as critical as what we choose to alter.

Another step is for the new leader to integrate quickly with her or his top team, engaging with the issues, strengths and challenges of each functional area rapidly and deeply.

At the same time, it is critical for campus constituents, including faculty, staff and members of the top administrative team to prepare to engage with and welcome the different style and leadership practices the new leader might bring. Frequently, however, top team members especially imagine that a new leader will bring few new practices, leading to a rocky start unless these team members are open in advance to new ways to do things.

I believe that my long experience with strategy setting and working at the interface of presidents, top teams, and faculty leaders have prepared me well for this exciting role. Now, more than ever, positive, productive on-boarding is a must, as is quick and deep integration with new and existing interests and forces on any campus.