“If community colleges are to contribute powerfully to meeting the needs of twenty-first century students and the twenty-first century economy, education leaders must reimagine what these institutions are—and are capable of becoming.”
– Daniel Phelan
“Leadership is about setting a direction. It’s about creating a vision, empowering and inspiring people to want to achieve the vision, and enabling them to do so with energy and speed through an effective strategy. In its most basic sense, leadership is about mobilizing a group of people to jump into a better future.”
– John Kotter
American higher education stands at a cross-roads. Increasing costs, decreasing levels of public funding, calls for greater accountability and transparency from a host of stakeholders, increased competition both locally and internationally, emerging technologies, profound shifts in the economy as well as student demographics—these factors and more are challenging the traditional mission and scope of most institutions. In the face of these challenges, academic leaders must not simply serve as stewards of their organizations, they must be agents of change —providing a bold vision of what’s possible, but also nurturing the people around them and at all levels of their institutions to become more flexible and resilient, to think more creatively and expansively, to act with courage and passion to, “be the change they wish to see in the world.”
This is precisely what I strive to bring an organization.
The cornerstone of my leadership philosophy is that real success depends on building a culture of mutual support and continuous quality improvement, where creativity and experimentation are highly valued, and where each day is truly seen as an opportunity for discovery and growth. I’ve never been afraid of big ideas or ambitious plans, and as a leader, I try to inspire those around me to think boldly, to strive for excellence, and to take risks. Indeed, I believe people do their best work when they’re motivated not by a fear of failure, but rather, the challenge of meeting high goals they’ve set for themselves. But often the hardest change in the world to make has nothing to do with external forces or conditions, but in finding the strength to abandon old habits and ways of thinking when they no longer work for us.
As Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey argue in Immunity to Change, successful growth for both individuals and organizations hinges on first recognizing the ways in which we regularly undermine our own development by holding on to practices, habits and beliefs that–even while we may recognize they are no longer relevant or productive–give us some comfort because they are familiar. Indeed, even when people recognize the need for change intellectually, seeking out new patterns, practices and beliefs can be emotionally difficulty and frightening. Kegan and Lahey point out that leaders can assist their teams and organizations navigate change by being mindful of three things.
First, we need to be careful to distinguish the kind of change needed when facing new situations. So often organizations seek out technical solutions (changes in policies, practices, procedures) when adaptive ones (changes in perspective, values, relationships) are what is really required.
Second, cognitive and emotional development occur in stages, and so not everyone in a given group or organization is going to process things in the same ways or on the same timeline. Because of this, actions taken by (or on behalf of) one unit or group can often be misinterpreted by those in another. Change can be confusing under the best of circumstances, so leaders need to actively look out for and address areas of misunderstanding and mistrust as they arise. Communication is key.
Finally, Kegan and Lahey point out that while we still tend to view learning mostly in cognitive terms, emotions play as pivotal a role in our development. Indeed, they define “change immunity” as the countervailing impulses people experience, most often as a tension between what is understood as necessary in order to adapt and thrive, and fear of what letting go of the status quo might mean for them. Leaders must be sensitive, mindful, and emotionally present–and be willing to engage in the emotional labor that comes with change.
Personally and professional, I strive to always be open to new ideas and approaches. Part of this stems from having lived and traveled all over the world , and being exposed to so many different cultures and perspectives starting at such a young age. But I have also worked hard over the years to cultivate a certain generosity of spirit, an ability to be supportive and understanding when things don’t work out as expected. As a leader, I endeavor to inspire these same values in those around me: a commitment to excellence balanced by openness, generosity, curiosity, and humor!
More details on my leadership skills and strengths!