One question today’s academic leaders face is how to encourage a more vibrant and resilient institution in an era of rapidly changing expectations and conditions. Many people feel more comfortable, for instance, when leaders follow a traditional planning process that allows all the pressing organizational issues to come to the table simultaneously. But such processes usually fail to ignite the imagination of stakeholders or anticipate occasional reversals and unexpected opportunities.
At the same time, today’s trustees and board members expect and require an ever-accelerating pace of change. Whereas a new president used to have one or two years to get to know an institution and develop a strategic plan, now boards typically want some plan for change in a matter of months. In a culture where faculty expect authentic consultation, this is a tall order indeed!
Susan might counsel leaders to take a more flexible approach: one that establishes reachable priorities, advances those, and then moves on to the next priorities, all the while reminding listeners that the community will engage the full range of issues on a rotating basis. This creative style draws energy from stakeholders’ interests rather than imposing more bureaucratic processes that may fail to engage their passions.
Here is an address to trustees, in response to a president who asked Susan to help prepare her board for its role in a comprehensive strategy process.
A well-designed communication strategy is an essential component of this leadership approach. By framing the narrative of the organization, that is, constantly telling the story of the institution’s vision and priorities, a leader can deliver a consistent message of “one institution” that is critically important in an academic community where loyalties to one’s scholarly discipline, department, programmatic center, or professional association competes for scholars’ attention (and precious time).
Drawing on her own research, experience and in-depth talks with top administrators and scholars from leading universities, Susan has developed new ways to advance universities and colleges. She believes that day-to-day decisions making such as hiring leaders, handling budget constraints, meeting accreditation requirements, and assembling a campus master plan can provide key opportunities to advance an institution strategically-and creating a culture of trust, rationality, and open communication in which stakeholders can flourish are keys to continued success.
In this video, Susan describes how she helps college and university leaders execute a strategic agenda and strengthen faculty development.