Academic Career Adventures: What does it take to become an Academic Dean? 4 Actions to Move Forward.

This is a post in an occasional  series called “Higher Education Executive Coach” for academic, administrative, and technology leaders as well as aspiring leaders. So, you want to be an academic dean. Or perhaps, in the future, a provost or a president in a university or college. On the Chronicle website there is an excellent collection of articles integrated into a 28-page guide called “How to Be a Dean.” This guide provides useful insight from a variety of perspectives. Along with this guide, step through these 4 actions to gain forward momentum in achieving your goal.

Academic Leadership: Onramp Options

Action 1: Define why.

Why do you want to be a Dean? Is this a logical first step in the direction of a provost or presidency? If so, begin to craft your vision and ideas for your field. This should be your North Star – your onramp to realizing your leadership aspirations.

Action 2: Identify your leadership strengths/blind spots.

Take time to ask yourself the following questions: What are your strengths in working with others? How do you engage in conflict management or rather, difficult conversations? How adaptable are you in coping with diverse tasks and tight deadlines, a variety of personalities, and unforeseen circumstances? What are your situational blind spots? Your answers to these questions will provide good insight when assessing your leadership aptitude. Generally, most faculty spend the majority of their career immersed in their area of expertise- and less time formally building leadership skills. The most effective way to evaluate your leadership strengths and blind spots is to seek an external perspective from an expert. An executive coach can help you assess your leadership aptitude through assessment (the EQi 2.0 & Hogan are two good ones) and interpretation. A quality interpretation of assessment results will provide a roadmap to build on strengths, help define triggers for situational blindspots, and inform a good action plan to improve and measure progress in developing leadership aptitude.

Action 3: Craft a career-timeline.

In addition to providing guidance for developing leadership aptitude, a coach can help you design a timeline for achieving your career goals. Once you have clear assessment of your leadership skills, factor professional development activities in your timeline to enhance your aptitude. Actions can include signing up for a leadership development program, volunteering to lead committees, and presenting at academic conferences (include leadership topics).  Another important consideration is timing. Academic leadership positions are complex. Only you can determine when it makes sense to take the next step.

Action 4: Be strategic about your application packet.

If you’ve already considered actions 1 – 3, step 4 is to be strategic in developing your application packet. Your application packet should explicitly illustrate stories of relationship management, negotiation and compromise, planning and change management, decision-making capabilities, and an imperative to ensure student success. Incorporate in these stories how you embody leadership traits such as confidence, passion, humility, self-awareness, and empathy. The content developed for your cover letter and CV will also provide a head start in developing compelling stories to share during the interview process.

Would you like a fresh perspective on your career trajectory from a seasoned higher education executive coach? Let’s get the conversation started- contact me at [email protected].