The Courage to Lead

Transitioning to a new leadership position during your higher education career can be challenging.  If you have an employment history with the institution, your new staff has most likely formed an opinion about your professional leadership and personal interaction styles.   If you have no history of employment at the institution of your new appointment, your staff has most likely conducted their own informal background check of your professional leadership and personal interaction styles in all of your previous academic positions.  Their findings and resulting opinions – positive or negative, accurate or not – are either confirmed or dispelled early on.

It is likely that communication and behavioral challenges will emerge, as both you and the staff adjust to each other.   Your staff might worry that you will ease your transition to the new position by replacing them and starting anew, i.e. bringing in new blood.   As the new leader, you focus appropriately on being productive and effective.   Honestly, you might consider replacing staff, but will that aid or impede your leadership objectives?

A key role of a university administrator is leadership.   The ability to analyze situations, strategize or plan, and implement effective actions are a few of the universal leadership expectations.    If you experience early challenges during your transition to the new university position, I recommend these steps: 

(1)    Enter situation analysis mode to identify the problem, and ask yourself, “Are my communications and actions causing the challenges? Have I provided the staff sufficient structure and direction?  Have I communicated my expectations and were they clear? 

(2)     Strategize or plan to address the problems identified during situation analysis.  Ask, should I change my behavior or leadership approach?   What can I do to develop a focused and harmonious workplace?   Can I more effectively communicate my plans for the unit and assure the staff that I have no immediate plan to dismiss staff without cause?  Do I need to emphasize the expectation of teamwork for unit effectiveness? 

(3)     Implement your plan. Do what it takes to help them develop an opinion of your leadership styles based on personal experiences.   LEAD. 


D. A. Buchanan is a 30+-year higher education administrator and a member of the educational leadership graduate faculty of a historically black university in the southeast United States.

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