There are many reasons to get into higher education leadership. Becoming a leader in higher education means you can have the chance to make changes in the lives of faculty and students alike. However, there can be challenges. In an essay for Inside Higher Ed, Elizabethtown College President Carl Strikwerda noted that universities are challenged by lower graduation rates and shortage of modern facilities. Whether you’re just entering into your higher education career or if you’ve worked in the industry for years, here are leadership tips to help you excel in a career in higher education:
1.) Prepare to have a productive dialogue – and keep a cool, calm attitude
As EdWeek noted, it’s tempting to rely on emotion and rhetoric in order to achieve your goals when debating in an academic setting. However, that doesn’t build long-lasting, trusting relationships in an environment where it takes many individuals to implement new initiatives. According to Harvard Business Review, one of the top identifiers of a strong, competent leader is the ability to create an atmosphere of safety and trust. Nowhere does this seem more important than on a university’s campus where faculty must engage in and discuss a range of hot-button topics. As you approach these topics, prepare how you will stay calm. In practice, that may mean providing a moderator during feedback sessions with colleagues and students when discussing some of the challenges the campus is facing.
2.) Know when to delegate
When heading an academic department or an entire university, it can be tempting to personally oversee every initiative from start to completion. Higher education leaders need to know when to delegate tasks. You can empower your staff by letting them take care of day-to-day challenges. Be clear with your expectations to set them up for success. In addition, by delegating tasks, you can take the opportunity to focus on longer-term visions for your department or institution. For instance, many college presidents have to contend with the conflicting needs of a college. Such challenges can include the need for technology that will assist the student body or the goal of increasing ROI for students, an article for Inside Higher Ed reported. To create the highest return on investment, you can keep a sharp eye on the outside factors – like social and economic shifts – that can affect how your university will move forward. When you delegate tasks, you can better address these shifts and prepare students for a career after graduation.
3.) Join a professional network
Whether you are in an academic administrative role or part of the faculty, you may likely face some tough decisions as part of your job. According to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, funding for colleges has gotten tighter, leaving administrators to make difficult decisions. Just as it is important to delegate, it is also important to reach out to ask for guidance. Research from the University of Southampton suggested building peer networks as a resource for mentoring and development when working in higher education. These networks can be comprised of fellow academic administrators, membership in professional organizations or department leaders. Different organizations can discuss the challenges you are likely facing on your own campus. In addition, they can help combat the stress of the job and offer options about how to proceed.
4.) Take time for your health
As an academic administrator, you are expected to fill multiple roles and attend several events, all within a given day. However, Inside Higher Ed noted that to best do this job, you have to be physically well-rested and well-prepared. That means you have to make time to take care of yourself. While it is tempting to be available at all times, it is just as crucial that you take care of yourself. That means making sure you take time to recuperate – whether that means relaxing with family or catching up on sleep. In addition, block out time for activities outside of academia that you enjoy. This will help you combat stress.
5.) Be open to accidental opportunities
When looking back on a career in higher education, it may seem like a winding path. In an interview, Charles Middletown, former president of Roosevelt University, described how he fell into different roles in academic administration accidentally. His career path was determined by his desire to make a difference to the student body and the university on issues he was passionate about. As you step into your role in academic administration, keep your eyes open for opportunities that let you tackle issues you care deeply about – it may lead to bigger roles with more responsibility that push your career forward in unexpected ways.
6.) Keep looking forward with research
It can be easy to get stuck inside the bubble of your own institution and block out news from the rest of the world. However, by staying up-to-date on the latest research in higher education, you can see how other institutions are handling the same challenges. There are many ways to do that. Read the latest research and follow publications discussing current events and policy in education. Your research can also take on a hands-on approach: You can visit other campuses and sit down with provosts or presidents and ask questions. Their answers may inform your decision making as you strive to bring your department or university into the future.
Working in higher education can lead to a rewarding career. You can have the chance to shape education and help students become citizens of the world. These leadership tips can make you feel prepared as you step into your role within academic administration. For more information, please reach out to an enrollment advisor for Maryville University’s online Doctor of Education – Higher Education Leadership.