Reflections on Presidents’ Forum 2017, Part 2: Development of Leaders for Today and for the Future to Serve and Advance Our Environment

Presidents Forum 2017 innovation PowellNote: This article is Part 2 of a multi-part series.

At the October Presidents’ Forum, Dr. Merodie Hancock, president of SUNY Empire State College, led a panel discussion on a topic about which I am passionate — addressing the need for development of leaders for today and the future to advance the digital and alternative learning environment. Questions addressed by the panel and participants included: How do we prepare leaders for the nontraditional environment? How do we build skills sets (and also define them) to work across institutions in our industry? How do we build policy skills in our emerging leaders to enable them to work with regulators and accreditors? How do we engage emerging leaders in pre-lobbying and/or train them in how the politics of higher education work and how to influence change in this world? To what opportunities do we need to expose emerging leaders in navigating the diversity of voices embedded in leading higher education today, and for the future?

In this discussion of leadership development, I was reminded that we as leaders need to model the way. Transparency, truth, and authenticity were characteristics that came to mind as the various panelists and participants spoke. We as leaders need to ask ourselves some tough questions regarding our modeling the way, including:

  • In what ways are we telling our institutional stories and engaging our constituents in ways that make a difference?
  • When it comes to innovation, in what ways are we open with the public about the risks we are taking with each new innovation (whether competency education, adaptive learning, AR, VR, etc.)? How do we promote innovation and learning and recognize that innovation involves making mistakes and failures and that this is okay?
  • Do we grow leaders systematically, hire with cross-purposes in mind, or do we do both?

The development of leaders needs to be intentional. A list of programs is needed, and Merodie offered to create a list and post it on her website. I suggest programs like the following be included: Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) for the advancement of women, OLC Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Education Programs, Civitas Learning Next Generation Leadership Academy, Harvard Graduate School of Education Institutes for Higher Education Leaders, UC Berkeley Executive Leadership Program, and other schools that offer certificates and/or degrees.

Bottom line: The development of leaders is our collective responsibility as leaders in order to advance innovation in higher education across all disciplines and areas. This means we need to take coaching and mentoring of those who work with us very seriously and deliberately, especially those we identify as emerging leaders and those who seek our support. This deliberate encouragement and support, of course, is over and above sending folk to programs like those discussed above.

Two other themes (including the emerging and rapidly changing learning technology and the higher education affordability crisis) were addressed during the Forum. I have in previous posts addressed the question of affordability and next week I will focus on emerging technology as I reflect on the experience and threads of thought that flowed through this week’s Educause Conference in Philadelphia.

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