Diverse Conversations: Learning to Lead
Many administrators in higher education rise from the faculty. However, when a faculty member is promoted to an administrative position, becoming a director, department chair, or deans, perhaps, it can be quite a challenge to master the art of leading.
To get some insight into how new administrators can learn to effectively manage and lead, I recently sat down with Dean Amy Hillman of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University to talk about promoting for within and some of the strategies that work best in an educational setting.
Q: First, tell me some of the key reasons for and benefits of promoting from within, selecting administrators from established faculty members?
A: Making this choice is similar to a private business choosing whether to bring in an outside manager or CEO, or to promote an insider. There are advantages to both. When significant trajectory change is needed, often an outsider is best because he or she can see the organization anew and shake things up. However, if a radical course change is not needed, then there are a lot of reasons to look inside. First, insiders know the organization. This advantage cannot be overemphasized. Insiders know the culture, generally the way things work, and have insights into the faculty, staff and students. Second, promoting from within in any organization provides career advancement for key faculty who want to grow into administration. Retention of top faculty talent as administrators is more effective and less costly than losing top faculty to take administrative jobs at other universities. Finally, while insiders know the organization, the organization also knows them. They have a personal network and have already established some social capital that will help them succeed in their new post.
Q: What is the most important benefit, in your experience, when it comes to promoting a faculty member to an administrative position?
A: Continuity of the elements of the organization that are its strengths, without sacrificing the benefits of change.
Q: When you promote a faculty member to an administrative position, you essentially start up a transitional phase for them and for the university or department they are going to lead. In your experience, what are some of the most important features of this transitional phase?
A: Setting clear direction is important for any department or unit, but it can’t be done without the new leader getting into the new role and having some time to assess the best path forward. Early in the transition, it’s important to listen to all the stakeholders while learning the full scope of the new responsibilities. After people feel heard, they are much more inclined to follow direction from new leaders.
Q: What, would you say, is the biggest challenge for new administrators going through this transitional phase?
A: When you’ve worked somewhere as a faculty member for a long time, it’s pretty easy to think you know a lot about the school, but an administrative job opens your eyes to all sorts of things you didn’t know about. The toughest challenge is learning the new responsibilities, while reframing your view of the organization.
Q: The W. P. Carey School of Business has promoted from within on a number of occasions and done so quite successfully. What are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective for managing this important transitional process?
A: Having multiple mentors is great. For example, new department chairs have peer chairs in other disciplines, who are more seasoned. Also, staff within their units have rich history that is invaluable. Supervisors and peers at other universities can also be a great source of advice.
Q: What steps does the W. P. Carey School of Business take to support administrators when they are transitioning from a faculty position to a leadership position?
A: We reduce expectations and workload in teaching and research to allow focus on the administrative position. We have more frequent meetings with the new administrator’s supervisors and team members early in the transition, and we always talk about how to improve, whether they’ve been in the job for days, months or years. Finally, discussing the transition back to faculty is also important.
Q: Which supports has the W. P. Carey School of Business found to be most effective?
Q: Lastly, what are your top recommendations for a faculty member who is shifting into an administrative position? What can they do to make the transition successful from the start?
A: Recognize that you may be an expert in your field, but you may not know much about the administrative role in the organization and may need management coaching. Being open to feedback, asking questions and, in general, humility are a great start.
And that concludes my interview with Dean Amy Hillman of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Thank you for these great insights and for all that you do to support our leaders in higher education.