Leadership Coaching in Higher Education:The Time is Now!

Everyone loves a promotion, right? But be careful what you wish for! Every time we are given a new role with increased responsibilities, the transition can be rough, and the new skills now required can feel daunting.
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Everyone loves a promotion, right? But be careful what you wish for! Every time we are given a new role with increased responsibilities, the transition can be rough, and the new skills now required can feel daunting.

Back to school means added pressures for folks in higher education who have been promoted from one position to another, like college faculty to department chair, or chair to full time administration. People who are experts in one academic field now need to be skilled in the art of leadership as well--a role shift and new identity that is not easy to create. Remember Alice in Wonderland as she moves through the Looking Glass?

"Who are you?" asked the caterpillar.

"I-I hardly know, Sir, just at the present," Alice replied rather shyly. "At least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."

Any shift in role involves more than simply adding new tasks to one's daily routine; it actually calls upon us to expand our sense of self. When roles change, due to desired promotions or newly assigned positons, educators encounter challenges that are usually unfamiliar and not part of their self- concept. They are now required to chair meetings, play nice on committees, facilitate conflict resolution and support those who report to them as well as answer the needs of those they report to. They need to exercise increased emotional intelligence and be highly skilled in managing complex human interactions. The competencies that made for professorial expertise and an educator's identify are now not enough for excellence in all areas of job performance.

Higher education is up against the same challenges that face other business endeavors; it needs to cut corners, do more with less, have faculty and administrators play double roles, attend to greater numbers of students, adjust to long distance learning strategies, and at the same time, hope to increase endowments. These complex challenges call for leadership development at the tippy top -- college chancellors, provosts and deans, but also at the level of department chairs, committee heads and administrative offices.

In today's world, the demands on faculty and administrators stretches beyond academic excellence and into the realm of leadership. Leadership coaching, which has become a familiar resource in business, has yet to reach the college quad. While a Forbes article a while back said that executive coaching had gone from "fad to fundamental," it has yet to be a widely used support in academia. The time is now!

Leadership coaching can help faculty and administrators manage the inevitable challenges involved in role transition, promotions, attention to long range planning and productive team work. As a leadership coach I have encountered the following themes that face new leaders -- a shift in identity from worker bee to queen bee, becoming tolerant of the loneliness that often goes with being on top, setting new boundaries about what information is shared, learning how to be the departmental ambassador to the larger university community , surveying the environment to determine who is trustworthy and who is not, giving hard feedback to former peers, developing a strong leadership presence and managing their stress as well as the stress others bring to them.

These challenges are the domain of leadership development and it is actually unfair to think that promoting good academics to management tasks will serve the individual or the department: unfair, and usually not good business. It is my hope that university and college administrators, deans, provosts and presidents will think to use educational support for their educators in the form of leadership development coaching.

For more on managing role transitions and leadership development on college campuses go to http://issuu.com/academicimpressions/docs/0615-coaching-md and www.TheResilienceGroup.com

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