The Higher Education Professional: 4 Essential Actions to Set Career Growth Goals

January 7, 2020 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

As a higher education professional, what will you accomplish this year? When you wake up on January 1, 2021, what will be different? Will you feel energized by your career momentum and the path forward?

I’ve been an executive coach and management consultant in higher education for more than 20 years. Time and again I see higher education professionals and aspiring leaders work hard to thrive in their existing roles but neglect the key drivers of their own continued career success and growth.

With the new year, we crave fresh perspectives on many things, including — of course — our career trajectory. This is an ideal occasion to think about the key drivers for professional growth — leadership readiness and emotional intelligence. Especially since executive search firms and institutions prioritize knowledge of these elements in candidate selection.

If you’re interested in moving to the next level in your career, the following 4 actions will help you get there.

ONE. Engage in Successful Self-Assessment. Self-assessment involves a thoughtful review of your career goals, job performance, and role competencies. Your honest evaluation will guide realistic short-term (six to twelve months) and long term (one to three years) goal setting and attainment. While this may seem daunting, this checklist will help you get started:

  • Revisit your career goals for the next 18 months to three years.
  • Review your job performance over the past year.
  • Be objective as you highlight your achievements and areas for improvement. Consider how you have performed in your role and how you work with and manage others.
  • Document how you expanded your knowledge in leadership, subject matter expertise in your professional focus area, and expertise in the higher education industry.
  • What would your manager, peers, and direct reports (or students) say about your job performance? What feedback might they give you?
  • Based on your self-assessment, how realistic are your career goals?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5 (5 is excellent), how well did your performance over the last year move you towards your career goals?

TWO. Evaluate Your Aptitude for Leadership in Higher Education. Over the course of your tenure as an employee in a university, you’ve likely accumulated experience in that have served you well as a vice president, provost, department chair, director, or other aspiring leadership positions.

Assessing your aptitude for leadership is closely tied to understanding the complexities of campus culture, decision-making across diverse constituencies, and stakeholder dynamics. Select the set of questions that represent your profile as a higher education professional. Determine your readiness by reflecting on the following questions:

As an aspiring or sitting technical leader: 

  • How well do you understand administrative, school, and departmental business issues and opportunities?
  • What experience do you have as a technology ambassador across campus?
  • How do you describe how your technology organization (or division) marries technology goals with institutional goals?
  • How have you demonstrated the value of technology in solving complex, campus-wide issues?
  • What reputation have you built as a trusted advisor to faculty, staff, and senior campus leadership?
  • How have you invested in developing your own leadership aptitude and other competencies such as financial, people, and overall organizational management?

As an aspiring or sitting academic leader:  

  • How well do you understand the business of higher education from the senior campus leadership perspective? How does your school or department garner support or work with senior leadership?
  • What reputation have you built amongst faculty and administrators in your department, school and across campus?
  • How have you invested in developing your own leadership aptitude and other competencies such as financial, people, and overall organizational management?

As an aspiring or sitting administrative leader:  

  • How well do you understand administrative, school, and departmental business issues and opportunities?
  • How do you describe how your organization (or division) aligns its’ strategic planning efforts to institutional strategic goals and initiatives?
  • What reputation have you built within your institution and across professional networks and external organizations within your area of expertise?
  • How have you invested in developing your own leadership aptitude and other competencies such as financial, people, and overall organizational management?

On a scale of 1 to 5, how well do your answers to these questions reflect an aptitude for knowledge of the business of higher education?

THREE. Audit Your Emotional Intelligence Skills. Emotional intelligence is a decisive metric used in measuring executive presence. At the most definitive level, emotional intelligence is how well you use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. This affects how you express yourself, navigate social complexities, and make decisions — often in stressful situations. Executive presence is a combination of how you present yourself, engage and inspire others, and connect what you do with your institution’s mission.

In my work with institutional leaders and aspiring leaders, I find that emotional intelligence is the “special sauce,” which makes the difference between leaders who are high performing and strategic or simply tactical.

On a scale of 1 to 5, rate your aptitude in each of the following emotional intelligence competencies:

  • The ability to recognize your emotions and moods and their effect on others.
  • The ability to control and/or redirect disruptive impulses and moods.
  • The propensity to think before acting.
  • Your comfort with ambiguity and openness to change.
  • A desire and passion for achieving goals with energy and persistence that goes beyond money and status.
  • Skill in understanding the emotional makeup of other people and responding to situations with sensitivity.
  • The ability to develop and manage relationships and networks with rapport.

Document your rating average for this section.

FOUR. Review Self-Assessment Results with a Career Path Health Check. A career path health check involves taking the short-term pulse and tracking the long-term momentum of your efforts to build leadership skills and emotional intelligence competencies. Using the results from the four sections above, ask yourself:

  • Does your current experience reflect a trajectory to where you want to be in the next three to five years?
  • How do you frame the stories of your achievements? How well do these stories support your desired career path?

Use your self-reflections to update or craft an action plan to achieve your career goals.

If these exercises have whetted your appetite for self-assessment, there are many excellent industry standard resources available that work well for a higher education professional. Two of my favorites are:

  • Hogan Assessment for Leadership
  • EQi 2.0 Assessment for Emotional Intelligence

Are you inspired to take next steps? I’d be thrilled to schedule a conversation to discuss options to receive additional guidance. Please contact me at [email protected] or visit

Why More Academic and Administrative Leaders in Higher Education Are Using an Executive Coach

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

Leadership development is a top priority for both academic and administrative leaders in higher education. Organizations that want to thrive in the difficult years ahead need extraordinary leaders at the helm. One way that savvy institutions are making sure this happens is to invest in Executive Coaching services for their most promising leaders.

As a veteran Executive Coach in higher education, I’m not surprised to see the interest in executive coaching growing. What I’ve noticed lately, though, is that more and more leaders are so convinced in the value of having an Executive Coach that they are personally investing in Executive Coaching services.

An “Insider’s Look” at Helping Higher Education Executives Be Stronger Leaders

I’ve been on the inside of dozens of higher educational institutions throughout my career. I’ve worked with hundreds of department chairs, academic deans, chancellors, and presidents.  I’ve seen countless leaders rise to new heights, while their colleagues’ careers remain stagnant.  I know what’s made the difference and I bring that knowledge to each leader I coach.

There are five key benefits that higher education leaders reap when working with an Executive Coach, which I will discuss shortly.

From an organizational standpoint, leaders who undergo Executive Coaching become better problem-solvers, connect more favorably with their teams, and make transitions into advanced roles more seamlessly. From a personal standpoint, professionals who invest in Executive Coaches tend to advance higher in their careers, and typically advance more quickly.

Now, let’s walk through the five key ways you’ll benefit from working with an Executive Coach.

5 Powerful Ways You Benefit from Working with an Executive Coach

  1. Enhance Your Emotional Intelligence Skills

Whether you realize it or not, your Emotional Intelligence (EI) skills are critical to your success as a leader in higher education. You must be skilled in interpersonal interaction, adept at creating team unity, and able to work through conflict with relationships in-tact.

Leaders must be both self-aware and in-tune to the emotions of others.  When you know how to do this, you’re well on your way to creating a collaborative, results-focused team.

Understanding your EI and expanding it to the max is an imperative for higher education leaders. Working with an Executive Coach is one of the best ways to see your EI soar quickly.

2. Improve Your Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Abilities

The role of a leader in higher education can be both complex and ambiguous. Being able to assess a situation, understand potential pitfalls, and come up with innovative solutions are all hallmarks of a capable leader.

When you have an Executive Coach on your side, you have someone who can challenge your thinking habits and help you explore alternatives that you may not consider without a Coach on your side. Your problem-solving abilities expand. Over time, you also become a more insightful decision-maker.

3. You Become More Self-Aware and More Focused

Research bears out that self-awareness is a core leadership competency; it also confirms that most people overestimate their true level of self-awareness. Your Executive Coach can help you become more self-aware, and self-aware people are much more effective leaders than their out-of-touch counterparts.

When you work with an Executive Coach, you will soon start to identify personal patterns and tendencies, some of which aid you as a leader and some of which sabotage your well-intended efforts. The newfound self-awareness may help you overcome obstacles you’ve been struggling with for years.

An Effective Executive Coach won’t just help you figure out what you should do but will also help you examine why you respond the way you do to different situations. Your Coach will also help you explore response alternatives that can lead to improve results.

Leaders may find themselves perplexed with a complex issue and challenged to generate viable solution options.  An Executive Coaches operates as your thought partner – guiding you to stay laser-focused on what matters most.

4. Develop a Stronger Executive Presence

In the academic world, too many leaders rely solely on their academic expertise to secure their continued career growth. The missing link is an intentional investment in developing leadership skills – which in essence is how you show up as an executive with subject matter expertise, leadership aptitude, and demonstrated ability to challenge status quo group think.

How you’re perceived by others, your Executive Presence, matters. In fact, it matters a lot. Project a credible, capable, and caring image and you’ll find people will enjoy working with you more and see you as a candidate for executive growth. Developing executive presence requires intentional focus and consistent assessment of habits and shifts in how you lead. I have an Executive Presence program developed exclusively for higher education leaders where I teach the three pillars of Executive Presence. (Contact me for more information.)

5. Professional Career Goal Setting and Planning

Leaders who set strategic career goals and establish a career plan have a substantial advantage over those who leave their career growth to chance.  Your Executive Coach will walk you through a thorough career goal-setting and planning process that includes consistent reflection and review of your progress on working towards those goals. This is a game-changer!

Even though most of the higher education leaders I work with are exceptionally talented in so many ways, I find few have taken time to figure out what they truly want in their careers. Even fewer have ever taken the time to set time-relevant goals and a plan for achieving the career advancement they desire.

One of the first things I do with each client is review what their top goals are. In my mind, I cannot excel as an Executive Coach unless I’m helping you excel in achieving your career goals.

Having an Executive Coach Yields Benefits Throughout Your Career

Spend just six months with an Executive Coach and you will be a more effective leader while also changing the trajectory of your career. Spend a year or two with an Executive Coach, and you will not only ignite your career, but you can positively change the entire trajectory of the educational institution where you lead.

If you’re curious about the many additional ways working with an Executive Coach can help make you a stronger leader, then contact me. I’ll be happy to walk you through the Executive Coaching process that I’ve used to help executives at some of the top colleges and universities on the planet hone their leadership skills, develop a winning Executive Presence, and lead  their organizations to greater heights. It would be my pleasure to do the same for you.

How to Prepare for the Executive Search Interview Process: A Guide for Higher Education Leaders

July 30, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

How do you strategically prepare for a higher education executive search interview process? The executive search process in higher education is more rigorous than many people expect. If you’re applying for a Deanship, Provost, CIO, or VP position, you’ll need an impeccable CV or resume. You’ll also need exceptional interviewing skills.

Universities and colleges take great care in hiring, especially for senior positions. Not surprisingly, competition for these executive roles can be fierce.  That’s why being prepared for each type of interview you’ll face is critical for landing an executive position.

As an Executive Coach to higher education leaders, one of the many things I help leaders do is prepare for high-stakes interviews. Landing a top position in your field won’t happen by chance.  You need two things: an understanding for how your leadership aptitude translates to executive presence and an interviewing strategy for each critical stage of the recruitment process.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the three main types of interviews you’ll likely face:  the initial connection with a search consultant; your first interaction with the search committee; and your on-campus interview.  You’ll learn what your interviewers are looking for and how to prepare for each interview. I also recommend reading previous posts about executive presence.

1. The Screening Interview with the Executive Search Consultant

It’s likely that your first interview will be with a search consultant.  Executive roles require a thorough vetting process and search consultants specialize in ensuring only the best candidates move forward in the recruiting process.

You must impress in this interview because your performance here will determine whether you move forward to the next set of interviews.

What Executive Search Consultants Look For

Search consultants want to get a quick impression of your qualifications and fit for the executive role.  They typically look for the following traits:

  • Your ability to tell a succinct story about yourself, your skills, and your experience
  • Your level of interest in the role
  • Your fitness for the role based on your qualifications

Your ability to connect well with the search consultant will largely determine whether you get to move on to the next step.  That’s why it’s important to practice the key points you want to make in this stage of the process.

How to Prepare

The first thing you need to develop is a rock-solid elevator pitch which is a short introduction of who you are, your qualifications, and why you want the job. Your elevator pitch should be three minutes or less.

While this is not the time to go into deep detail, it is important that you provide context in your pitch. For example, if you’re applying for a CIO role, incorporate pertinent knowledge of strategic technology issues into your pitch. Relate these issues to campus priorities. If you’re up for a Deanship, demonstrate knowledge about the school’s culture or department accolades.

The interview with the search consultant is your first chance to show how well your qualifications match the executive role for which you’re applying.  Exhibiting strong communication skills and enthusiasm for the role will help you make a positive impression.

Before the interview is concluded, make sure you ask what the overall selection process timeline looks like. You want to leave with a strong sense of what will happen next.

After the interview is concluded, write a short note to the consultant thanking him or her for their time.  In your thank you note, be sure to also reinforce why you’re the strongest candidate for the role by briefly highlighting the top reasons you would be excellent in the position.

A written thank you to each person you interview with is required at each stage of the interviewing process.

2. The Video/Airport Interview with the Search Committee

In this step of the candidate screening process, you’ll meet directly with university or college decision makers for the first time. This second screening interview is typically conducted through video. In some instances, you’ll meet with committee members at an airport hotel or conference room that is easy for everyone to access.

A preliminary step to step two might be a telephone or video meeting with a few members of the hiring committee. The preparation steps for meeting a few members versus the entire team are the same.

What Search Committee Members Look For

Search committee members want to make sure that they hire a professional who is a great fit for the executive position. This means they’re looking for someone with a solid background, an impeccable knowledge base, and excellent communications skills. They are also looking for someone who will thrive in the school’s culture.

In the interview, search committee members will assess the following:

  • How adept you are at conveying your professional story
  • Your ability to map your experience to key themes and issues relevant to the new role
  • How the questions you ask demonstrate your knowledge of what’s needed to succeed in the executive position
  • Whether you’re a fit for the organization’s culture
  • Your Executive Presence, or how competent and confident you come across to others

You must show that you understand the role you’re applying for and that you have both the skills and the experience to do the job. In addition, you need to convince committee members that your core values and leadership style are compatible with the organization’s mission and expectations for its leaders.

Don’t forget that all interviews are a two-way street. In this interview, you’re getting your first look at potential future colleagues and executives. It’s your first chance to ask yourself if you see yourself working with these people.

In the interview process, the smart move is to always present yourself as eager and well-fitted for the role. At the same time, subtly watch for red flags that could indicate the role is not your next best career move. You’ll have time to more fully evaluate whether you want to move forward with your candidacy after the interview.

How to Prepare

Before interviewing, ask for the names of the people you’ll be interviewing with and then do your research on each. Get to know their background a little, what their role is, what their specialty is (provided they have one), and possible linkages with your role and organization. You should also spend a fair amount of time researching the educational institution as well as any department you would be leading or working with if hired.

The more fully you familiarize yourself with the interviewers and the organization beforehand, the more likely you’ll be able to impress those interviewing you. Here are a few specific areas you’ll want to research:

  • Campus culture
  • Reporting structure
  • How this role fits into campus leadership/governance
  • What the organization is best known for
  • Operating budget
  • The number of people reporting to this position

Begin your research by looking at the school’s website. LinkedIn can help provide additional insights on some employees.  Alumni groups could also offer ancillary information that could be useful. Finally, if you have any connections at the school, now’s the time to reach out to your network to get a first-hand overview of how the organization works.

3. The On-Campus Interview

While there are unique nuances among higher education organizations, the on-campus interview process is similar across the board. This is your opportunity to meet with key decision-makers and the top influencers that will decide whether you’re offered the position.

You may be asked to develop a presentation on a topic of your choice to present to the search committee and possibly other interested parties.  In higher education, your ability to teach and demonstrate your knowledge through insightful presentations is considered a must-have skill.

You will have several interviews throughout the day or days you interview. Depending on the role you’ve applied for, an on-campus interview could be limited to a single day or span a few days.

You’ll meet with small groups of staff, faculty, possibly some students, and other critical stakeholders.  Expect one-on-one interviews with your future boss and other influential campus leaders. You may also be asked to attend breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings as part of the interview process.

What the People You’ll Meet On-Campus Look For

The people you’ll meet on-campus will be evaluating you on most of the same things you encountered with your steering committee interview. They’ll just dig deeper as they meet you face-to-face for an extended period.

Other areas that your on-campus interviewers will be evaluating include:

  • Your overall competency
  • Your level of likeability, in other words, would they want to work for you or with you?
  • How well you solve problems, based on the examples of past experiences you share
  • How well you communicate
  • Your level of Emotional Intelligence

How to Prepare

You’ll want to review the research you conducted for the search committee interview.  That interview probably sparked some new things to explore about the organization, so it’s time to take the research you’ve done thus far and drill down deeper.

Recall the search committee’s question from your screening interview.  What questions did they ask? Were there trends in the types of issues they repeatedly brought up during the interview?  Who did you already meet with that will be key-decision makers and what did these people care about most?

Make sure you know at least something about the key staff, faculty, executives, and stakeholders you’ll meet in the on-campus interviews. The higher the degree of influence an interviewer has over making the final hiring decision, the more you’ll want to know about them.

As you prepare for your interview, make sure you also draw from your own experiences. You’ve probably already been involved in interviewing others.  What questions came up? If the tables were reversed and you were the one doing the hiring for this role, what questions would you ask the person being interviewed? Think through how you’d answer these questions if they were asked in your interview.

Prepare yourself by reviewing your top accomplishments as well as the top challenges you’ve faced in your career thus far. What are you most proud of and why? What are specific examples where you faced a tough challenge and excelled?  What have you learned from some of the mistakes or less-than-stellar results you’ve encountered? Make a list of top accomplishments and challenges and prepare to talk about them in detail.

Think about your leadership, communication, and people skills. What is your leadership style?  How do you prefer to communicate?  How do you handle conflict and difficult people?  Prepare to address these questions.

Finally, your Executive Presence will be a key deciding factor on whether you get the new role or face rejection.   I’ve coached many executives on how to build their Executive Presence, so if you feel you need help in that area, contact me.

Next Steps to Prepare for the Executive Search Interview Process

After the on-campus interviews, you’ll once again send out thank you notes to the appropriate people.  In those notes, you’ll highlight the top reasons you are the right candidate for the position and why you want the job.  Don’t just write generic thank you notes; personalize each note based on the conversations you had with each person with whom you interviewed.

If all goes well in the interviewing process, you’ll be asked to provide references. The hiring organization will contact your references, so make sure you contact your references beforehand so they’re willing, able, and ready to give a glowing endorsement.

The final step in the hiring process is the hiring decision. If you’ve followed the advice and strategies outlined throughout this post, your odds of getting hired improve ten-fold.

 Do You Need Some Help Preparing for Executive Interviews?

As an Executive Coach for more than 20 years, higher education leaders have trusted me to successfully guide their preparation to obtain executive-level positions. If you need coaching to prepare for an upcoming interview or help honing your Executive Presence,  contact me. I’m here to help you succeed.


Essential Actions for Professional Development & Career Growth Planning for Leaders in Higher Education

July 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

Neglecting your professional development and career growth planning? As a leader in higher education, you spend forty hours or more at work each week devoted to being excellent at your job. You attend to critical tasks, build teams, and execute much-needed changes that ensure that the department or organization you lead thrives.

You pride yourself on achieving superior results as a leader, but are you neglecting the one thing that will matter most in your career in the years and decades ahead?  I’m talking about the time and energy you devote to focusing on your career and professional growth.

It’s July and the year is half gone.  Now’s a good time to take a good long look at the career and professional goals you set January.  Or, if you didn’t set goals in January, now’s a good time review what you really want for your professional future.

I’ve been an Executive Coach in higher education for more than 20 years, and time and again I see higher education leaders work hard to thrive in their existing roles but neglect the key drivers of their own continued career success and growth.

In this post, I’ll review what you should be doing to ensure you don’t lose sight of the big picture that leads to phenomenal careers.  We’ll review both the actual career search process and the professional development required to enhance your credibility and reputation.

Job & Career Search

Whether you’re hoping to make a move immediately or down the road, the search for your next role needs to be a priority today. The seeds you plant now will yield the growth you want tomorrow.

There are three main activities I recommend you take immediately to ensure your next career transition is as fruitful as you want it to be.  The first is to begin expanding your network.  The second is to create a plan for your next job transition. The third is to invest in professional development and enhance your executive presence; both are required to send your career soaring.

Expand Your Professional Network

You’ve probably heard the adage that what you know is not nearly as important a who you know.  There’s more truth to that phrase than most people think.

Creating a strong professional network is key to fueling the career of your dreams.  I encourage you to think about what you have you done lately to expand your network.  Now, think about what new avenues you could pursue to expand the number and quality of contacts in your network.

For example, if you are in a technical field, you need to be engaged with EDUCAUSE, the largest community of technology, academic industry, and campus leaders advancing the role of information technology in higher education. EDUCAUSE  is holding several upcoming events that will help you expand your network while growing your skills.

SIGUCCS is another high-quality association to join if you’re involved in information technology services in your higher education role.  I will be conducting a workshop on building executive presence at the SIGUCCS annual conference this fall.

Other professional associations include NACUBO and the American Council on Education.

Whatever your professional niche, it’s important that you join relevant networks and associations where you network with others who can add depth and breadth to your current network.

Also, online networking on LinkedIn and other relevant online networks should not be ignored. Engagement will help establish your credibility and develop a strong professional presence in all forums that are appropriate for area of expertise.

Develop a Job Search/Career Growth Action Plan

Creating a career growth plan complete with target dates for next role you hope to hold is essential to the process of driving your growth as a leader.  Your plan should consider the following questions:

Where do you want to be in 18 months?

  • What types of career research do you need to do now if you’re not certain where you want to be? (examples: set-up informational interviews, discuss ideas with trusted mentors, etc.)
  • What skill gaps could prevent you from achieving what you want, and what will you do to shore up those gaps?
  • What concrete steps do you plan to take to achieve the career goals you’ve set for yourself in the next 30, 60, 90 days?? Don’t be vague:  create a detailed plan using SMART goals (i.e., specific, actionable, measurable, relevant, and timely).

Once you develop a concrete plan ask for feedback from a trusted mentor or coach.

Professional Development & Executive Presence

As a leader in higher education, you may already have a relatively clear picture of where you need to expand your current skillsets and subject area expertise.  What you might be less familiar with is the work you need to do to enhance your executive presence.

At its core, executive presence is about projecting confidence and competence along with a sincere interest in serving others.Executive presence refers to how others see you.  You may be exceptionally qualified and have extraordinary skills, and yet if others don’t see you as a strong, credible leader, your career will suffer.

To assure you are perceived as highly respected and competent leader, you must master the three pillars of executive presence, which are:

  • Technical Competence – Subject Matter Expertise
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Conceptual Thinking Skills

I’ve written extensively on the three pillars of executive presence for higher education leaders, and I invite you to learn more about them here.

Preparing to Handle Critical Conversations

As you undergo future job search initiatives, you’ll also need to be well versed in the four steps to handling critical conversations.  The four steps include:

Reflect:  Reflection is theact of preparing yourself for what’s ahead, thinking through the outcomes that you want to achieve while also understanding the needs others may have. In short, you need to mentally prepare yourself for the conversation you anticipate.

Plan:  Create a plan for how you intend to handle the actual job search conversation/interviewing process where you address your career wants, needs, and goals with the other party/parties involved.

Engage:   Engage the person or people you’re conversing with, extending compassion, respect, and an open mind.

Move forward:  Formulate a clear, complete vision for what you want to happen next.

The process of applying for and interviewing for your next job can be difficult, emotional, and fraught with uncertainty. Knowing how to use the four-step model to engage in high-stakes conversations will help increase the likelihood that career talks will go your way.

If you’d like to learn more about the four-step model of critical conversations, read my post  4 Steps to Approaching Critical Conversations: A Roadmap for Higher Education Leaders.

Staying on Top of Your Career Growth Tactics

Whether preparing for an immediate job search, envisioning long-range career goals, or focusing on professional development while building your professional presence, there are three simple steps that will help keep you on track:

  • Set goals for each stage of your career growth plan.
  • Reflect regularly on where you are versus. where you want to be.
  • Every week, commit 5-15 minutes to review the following:
    • What went well this week?
    • What could I have done more of (or less of)?
    • What will I do next week to further my career growth plan?

Your career growth isn’t something you should ever take for granted. Being clear about what you want and how you plan to achieve your career goals, and devoting time on a regular basis to attending to careering planning, is key to continued growth throughout your career.

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].


3 Pillars of Executive Presence for Higher Education Leaders

June 18, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

Whether you realize it or not, your executive presence as a leader in higher education is extremely important. In fact, your executive presence will likely determine how successful you’ll be in your leadership career.

I specialize in helping higher education leaders develop a strong executive presence.  Let’s walk through the three pillars of executive presence and how you can enhance your professional credibility by employing the leadership traits and habits required for unlimited success.

What Is Executive Presence?

Executive presence is widely misunderstood. At its core, executive presence is about projecting confidence and competence along with a sincere interest in serving others.

A leader with a strong executive presence displays a solid command of both industry and subject matter knowledge, while being open to hearing new ideas and thoughts. Executive presence is also tied to one’s ability to think abstractly about complex situations and apply insights appropriately.

In a higher education environment, leaders with strong executive presence are seen as strong and capable leaders by colleagues, staff, students, and executive leaders.  They earn respect wherever they go.

Executive Presence in Action

Executive Presence is somewhat intangible, but you typically know it when you see it.  Take a moment now to recall the leaders you’ve known whom you admire most.  What traits and characteristics did you most admire?

Perhaps it was their ability to project confidence while remaining approachable.  Maybe it was their skill at handling difficult situations with grace. Or, perhaps you respected them for their in-depth knowledge, unparalleled skills, and eagerness to help others learn and grow.   Leaders with a strong executive presence display all these things and more.

The 3 Pillars of Executive Presence 

While there is not one universal set of rules that determine how a leader will be perceived, there are traits that are common among the very best leaders.  To improve your leadership prowess, I recommend that you first focus on the three pillars of executive presence.

 1. Technical Competence — Subject Matter Expertise

There isn’t a single leader in higher education who can make a positive impact without first being exceptionally skilled in their chosen career field.

For example, Provosts not only lead the academic function in an institution, they are experts in their chosen academic fields, whether that be engineering, anthropology, or any other subject matter. Their academic expertise, though, may have nothing to do with the leadership skills that Provosts must also master to be successful. Hence, it’s vital that Provosts must understand their own leadership aptitude and how this key competency influences ability to perform at their peak as leaders.

A CIO, as an example of an administrative leader in higher education, needs to have deep knowledge in technical infrastructure, enterprise systems, and technologies influencing academic and research environments. CIOs must also understand other functional areas of the educational institution, including enrollment management, research administration, and library services, just to mention a few areas. Technological skills alone are simply not enough to be an effective CIO in higher education.

The higher one climbs in the ranks in higher education, the more one must master to be an effective leader. Administrative and academic leaders must have a solid understanding of complex organizational politics in the university or college environment. They must also have a deep understanding of the complex needs and issues that arise when serving a diverse student population.

Executives must have a solid understanding of the organization’s culture.  They also need to have an exceptional command of issues relating to governance, including the role of the boards of trustees, presidential cabinets, etc.

Executives in higher education also need a comprehensive understanding of alumni, donors, and even how the local community impacts the organization. They must also understand outside market influences and how macroeconomic changes impact higher educational institutions.

In short, the first pillar of executive presence is to be prepared, knowledgeable, and thoroughly versed in all the areas that can impact your leadership success.

2. Emotional Intelligence

In his groundbreaking work on Emotional Intelligence (EI), Daniel Goleman found that EI was a stronger predictor of leadership success than IQ.

Emotional Intelligence refers to one’s ability to translate emotional cues into strategic thinking and behaviors.  People with strong EI possess a solid command of their own emotional states as well as the emotional needs of those around them.

Leaders with strong EI demonstrate confidence in themselves and their abilities.  They are assertive communicators who think before they speak, maintain healthy boundaries, and connect well with others.

Emotional Intelligence and executive presence go hand-in-hand in higher education.  Leaders with high EI are responsive communicators, while those with low EI are reactive communicators. The difference is substantial.

Emotionally Intelligent leaders never shy away from difficult conversations. They are adept at asking insightful questions and are open to hearing opinions that conflict with their own.  They are also confident enough to make the tough calls that others shy away from making.

For example, a CIO must be able to balance competing technology needs for faculty, students, and administrators. This can be particularly tricky in the face of budget constraints and lengthy program development lead times.  An emotionally intelligent CIO knows how to negotiate priorities with empathy and respond with a cool head when heated discussions regarding technology demands arise.

When your EI is high, your sense of self-awareness is strong. You also are attuned to how others are likely to react or respond in one-on-one and group meetings. Because you’re so good at reading people, you know how you’re perceived and can adjust your communication style when a situation warrants a change.

Self-awareness and emotional adeptness are traits that are highly correlated with leadership success, which is why boosting your Emotional Intelligence is one of the smartest steps you can take to improve your executive presence.

3. Conceptual Thinking Skills

Conceptual thinking refers to a leader’s ability to recognize both short-term and long-term needs and make strategic decisions that satisfy each appropriately.

The best leaders know how to look at situations from various viewpoints and act with intention.

A leader with strong conceptual thinking skills can

  • Synthesize complex concepts and ideas rapidly
  • Identify patterns in data and situations that other people might not detect
  • Employ analytic thinking effectively
  • Simplify even complex ideas so others have a greater understanding of what’s happening

Conceptual thinkers are creative thinkers who can go from the abstract to the concrete without hesitation. Leaders with strong conceptual thinking skills generate more innovative ideas and develop cutting-edge solutions more quickly and easily than non-conceptual thinkers.

Some people are conceptual thinkers by nature, but conceptional thinking skills can also be learned. If you want to improve your executive presence, mastering conceptual thinking is a leadership imperative.

Build Your Executive Presence by Mastering the 3 Pillars

When you build your technical competence, strengthen your Emotional Intelligence, and master conceptual thinking, your executive presence will soar.

If you or your team need some help with any of the three pillars, contact me.  I specialize in helping leaders in higher education strengthen their executive presence and I would be delighted to do the same for you and your leadership team.


Why Responsive Communication Skills Are So Important for Higher Education Leaders

June 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

Responsive CommunicationIt’s a fact: Leaders who are the most successful in higher education environments possess exceptional communication skills. In my more than 20 years as an Executive Coach for higher education leaders, I’ve coached hundreds of professionals on how to improve their communication effectiveness. One of the most important steps you can take to improve your skills is to master the power of responsive vs. reactive communication.

In today’s post, we’ll look at the difference between reactive and responsive communication, and I’ll walk you through three steps that will help you be an intentional, responsive communicator rather than an impulsive, reactive communicator.

Reactive vs. Responsive Communication

First, let’s look at reactive communication. Below is a list of traits associated with a reactive communication style.

Reactive Communicators

  •  Allow their emotions to drive their interactions with others.
  • React at a gut level that’s driven by emotions that stem from fear, hurt feelings, and other personal emotional triggers.
  • Are impulsive; their emotions take precedence over reasoned thought.
  • Can come across as difficult, turf protectors.
  • Are often aggressive rather than assertive.
  • Are defensive rather than open.
  • Tend to be polarizing and shut down healthy debate.
  • Often discount others’ feelings; they may even verbally attack others.
  • May adopt bullying tactics.

Reactive communicators over-focus on their own beliefs and opinions, and they place their needs and wants above others’ needs and wants. In a higher education environment, where collaboration and respect for others is essential, reactive communicators wreak havoc instead of breeding a sense of team spirit and unity.

Now, let’s look at responsive communicators, who make excellent leaders, peers, and staff in higher education institutions. Responsive communication is the opposite of reactive communication.

Responsive Communicators

  • Stand up for themselves and are assertive rather than aggressive.
  • Take great care to handle interactions with others with respect and diplomacy.
  • Are not immune to having emotional responses, but they do not allow those emotions to take the lead.
  • Think through situations from a big-picture perspective.
  • Encourage healthy debate.
  • Welcome differing viewpoints and are open to opinions that may clash with their own opinions.
  • Practice good listening behaviors.
  • Favor fair, calm, honest communication that steers clear of inappropriate emotional intensity.
  • Are considerate when interacting with others.

When a responsive communicator speaks, it is from a place of pure intention, not impulse. Responsive communicators are intent on understanding the full picture rather than jumping to conclusions that could be incorrect.

Team building is a key skill for any higher education leader, and responsive communicators are excellent at creating and building cohesive, collaborative team environments.

Mastering the Power of Responsive Communication:  3 Ways to Respond Intentionally

The truth is, very few people are “reactive” or “responsive” all the time; most of us tend to lean one way or the other, but seldom interact the same way in all situations. In different situations, different communication traits will surface.

If you want to be a successful leader who has unlimited career potential in higher education, it’s important to work on your responsive communication skills so that they become your dominant go-to communication strategy.

Here are three ways you can build your responsive communication effectiveness:

1. Make Sure You Understand What Was Said.

Don’t just focus on the words coming from others; consider the intention behind the words.  A simple yet effective strategy to use to improve understanding is to repeat back what you believe the person is saying to you. Repeating what others have said not only helps the person you’re interacting with feel heard, but it also buys you extra time to come up with a considered response to the situation at hand.

2. Ask Clarifying Questions.

Misunderstandings are far too common and far too destructive. If you want to be a stronger communicator, it’s up to you to make sure you understand the bigger picture. A great way to do this is to ask clarifying questions.

Confirm your assumptions about what you’re hearing rather than assume you understand. Your job is to always seek to understand, and that can be a considerable task since the people you interact with won’t always be forthcoming about their needs, wants, and intentions.

Seeking to understand a situation fully is especially important where strong emotions are involved.  When emotions are high, there is a higher risk of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Your goal in every interaction is to enhance mutual respect, and asking clarifying questions demonstrates you are intent on understanding and respecting others’ thoughts and needs.

3. Give Yourself Time to Respond Appropriately.

Never be afraid to put some space between the time you hear about something and the time you offer your response. Space and time are your allies.

If someone asks you a question or needs an answer from you that you’re not crystal-clear about just yet, then buy yourself some time by offering to get back to that person in a reasonable time period.  Reactive communicators offer answers on impulse, and they often regret those answers.  Responsive communicators offer answers only when they’ve given a matter careful consideration.

So, next time you’re stopped in the hallway by someone who makes a request of you that you’re not prepared to discuss, suggest you meet in 15 minutes so that you have time to process the request and thoughtfully consider your response.

Consistent Responsive Communication Skills Are a Must for Leaders in Higher Education

If you’ve developed some bad communication habits over the years, it’s time to become a consistent responsive communicator who is adept at handling even difficult interactions with care and intention.

The most successful leaders in higher education convey an exceptional Executive Presence. Being a responsive communicator is a critical component of conveying a refined, highly credible Executive Presence.

When you practice responsive communication consistently, you’ll find that you build better relationships with peers, staff, and executive team members.  You’ll also send your leadership career prospects in higher education soaring.  It’s a win-win for you and all those with whom you’ll interact going forward.


Would you like to enhance your responsive communication skills and boost your Executive Presence? Or, would you like to help members of your academic or administrative leadership team enhance their Executive Presence?  As a seasoned Higher Education Executive Coach, I can help you get a fresh perspective on your leadership aptitude and help you build a strong Executive Presence.  Let’s get the conversation started– contact me at [email protected]

Managing Conflict in Critical Conversations: A Case Study for Higher Education Leaders

May 15, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

Note: This is the 3rd and final part of a 3-part Effective Communication in Conflict for Higher Education Leaders series. As a leader in higher education, you will undoubtedly face your fair share of conflict situations and critical conversations throughout your career. Your ability to handle these emotionally charged scenarios can make or break your career, which is why I’ve devoted an in-depth, three-part series to helping you succeed in handling critical conversations and managing conflict. If you missed the previous installments in this series, you can read part one here and part two here.

I’ve been an Executive Coach for higher education leaders for more than twenty years and I developed and teach a program called Effective Communications:  How to Approach Critical Conversations and Conflict Situations, which is designed for higher education leaders who face difficult situations that are often unique to educational environments.

This series introduces you to the fundamentals of the program I teach and provides insights into how you can become more adept as a leader facing conflict situations.

In part one of this series, I discussed the critical role your Emotional Intelligence plays in your success in conflict.

In part two of this series, I walked you through a four-step model that helps you approach critical conversations and conflict situations successfully.

In this third and final installment in this series, I introduce you to an actual case study, and show you how the four-step model works in a higher education scenario where conflict was inevitable and critical conversations were required.

A Quick Review of the Four-Step Approach to Handling Conflict in Critical Conversations as a Leader in Higher Education

As you may recall from part two of this series, the four key steps in handling conflict include:

  1. Reflect– Prepare yourself for what’s ahead and think through the outcomes that you want to achieve, the needs others may have, and mentally prepare yourself for the difficult conversation you anticipate.
  2. Plan– Create a plan for how you intend to handle the actual conversation where you address the conflict with the other party/parties involved.
  3. Engage– Engage the person or people you’re conversing with, extending compassion, respect, and an open mind.
  4. Move Forward– Focus on how the parties involved will move forward together. The goal of this step is to formulate a clear, complete vision for what is to happen next.

Now that you have a firm grasp on the four-step approach to handling conflict and critical conversations, I want to introduce you to a new tool that you’re sure to find invaluable:  Stakeholder Mapping.

Understanding a Stakeholder’s Level of Interest and Influence

Before you engage in any conflict-prone confrontation or conversation, it’s best to understand what each person involved in the conflict (each stakeholder) has at stake.  I recommend using Stakeholder Mapping to do this (see chart below).

In any conflict situation, each person involved may have varying degrees of both interest and influence regarding the outcome of the situation.

The people involved in the conflict may be highly invested (i.e., highly interested) in the outcome, or have a low interest in how the situation plays out.  Also, each person involved might have a high degree of influence over what happens or a low degree of influence.

As you can see from the stakeholder map I’ve provided here, there are four different interest/influence combinations where each stakeholder in the conflict could land, and there’s a different situational management tactic that leaders should employ for each circumstance.

1 Monitor:  When a stakeholder has both low influence and low interest in how a conflict situation plays out, the best tactic for the leader to employ is simply to monitor the situation.  A leader needs to keep an eye on the individual’s needs, wants, and interests in case they should change, but there is no need to be overly focused or concerned about this stakeholder’s reactions. The person who falls in this quadrant simply isn’t all that involved or interested in the outcome.


2 Inform:  When a stakeholder has relatively low influence regarding the matter at hand, but is highly interested in the matter, the leader’s job is to keep this person in the communication loop.  When stakeholders with low influence but high interest are kept highly informed, they feel more comfortable and may be more inclined to offer support rather than resistance.

3 Consult:  When a stakeholder involved in the conflict or critical situation has low interest but high influence, a leader’s best bet is to consult with this stakeholder.  Influential stakeholders can sway others’ opinions and impact a leader’s future career success, so it’s best to take great care to consult with influential stakeholders throughout the process.

4 Involve:  When a stakeholder in the conflict situation has both a high interest in the outcome and high influence over the outcome, that person must be kept highly involved from day one.  Involving high-interest, high-influence stakeholders helps improve the odds that there won’t be extreme resistance to initiatives that are proposed. When this stakeholder is supportive of an initiative, their influence can help get others on board. Of the four types of stakeholders, those with high influence and high interest are the most important to keep highly involved and highly satisfied.

Case Study: Gaining Consensus on a Formal Policy Addressing Faculty Advisor/PhD Student Relationship Expectations

The best way to fully appreciate the steps I’ve outlined for managing conflict and critical situations is to walk you through a case study.

In this case study, Sara is the is the new Vice Chair of her Science Department. The university’s academic leadership has encouraged individual colleges to develop guidelines for setting expectations for advisor-student relationships that best supports students to succeed in their PhD programs.

Advisor-student relationships had not traditionally been governed or guided by such a formalized process, as such there is much debate about instituting this change.  To many, the quality of advising is viewed as uneven. Sara has inherited this policy initiative from her predecessor, who was recently fired for being divisive and ineffective.

Sara recognizes that taking on this initiative and gaining consensus on the guidelines will be highly political yet necessary in order to set expectations for PhD students in how advisors can best be leveraged. This new advisory approach will require buy-in from the faculty committee.

Sara has done her due diligence in developing a new policy document with input from junior faculty as well as long-time tenured faculty. She knows the ideas for this document will make a meaningful impact and is intent on getting the substantial change implemented, but she knows she cannot do it alone.

Sara suspects that some of the members will not willingly embrace the proposed changes and wants to take great care with how she introduces the draft policy document to the committee and how she interacts with those involved.

Though new to her role as Vice Chair, Sara is a savvy leader and understands that her ability to influence the committee on this first major change initiative could impact her success as a leader for years to come. The stakes are sky-high for Sara.

Before speaking with anyone, Sara begins her policy adoption strategy with a stakeholder mapping process.

Identify Stakeholders and Categorize Them as Resistant, Supportive, or Neutral

In addition to Sara, there are seven stakeholders on the committee.  Sara did her homework and categorized each based on their level of interest and influence on the acceptance process.  Sara assigned each stakeholder a rating:  resistant, supportive, or neutral.

The stakeholders and their anticipated supportiveness/resistance levels are as follows:

As you can see from the chart, Sara knows she is entering this situation with one known resistant stakeholder who has both high interest and high influence over the outcome: Brian.

The other likely resistant stakeholder is Stuart, a tenured researcher who informally advises students on an ad hoc basis.  Stuart will resist any change effort that has even a remote chance of impacting him. Stuart is wary of all changes.

Mary is one of Sara’s most powerful allies in getting this change adopted.  Mary is a tenured professor who not only supports Sara’s ideas, Mary also has an excellent working relationship with Brian, the initiative’s most ardent resister.  Sara knows Mary’s relationship with Brian could be useful in helping smooth the path for adopting the change.

Sara has two more supportive committee members in Carol and Sandra, though neither are tenured, which means they have less influence than their resistant counterparts.

There is another supportive yet neutral person on the committee, Donna. Although tenured and regularly advises students, Donna’s overall interest in the outcome is low.

Finally, there’s the completely neutral John, who recently received tenure and has great relationships and growing influence with other committee members but isn’t particularly invested in the outcome of this policy initiative because he’s busy.

Stakeholder Mapping & Communication Strategy

Based on Sara’s review of the various committee members’ level of interest and influence, as well as their likelihood of being resistant, supportive or neutral, Sara developed the following communication plan to address each committee member’s unique perspective and needs.

Pre-Commmittee Meeting Communication Plan

Sara knows better than to go into this politically charged committee meeting without doing some “pre-meeting” relationship building with each of the committee members. Sara’s still new to her role and she needs to give each committee member a chance to get to know her better and understand her leadership style, what she’s doing, and why she’s doing it.

Most of all, Sara needs for the committee to understand that she is open-minded, caring, and wants only the best for the faculty and students. In her predecessor’s tenure, game-playing and political maneuvering were the norm; Sara wants these divisive tactics to come to an end under her leadership.

Sara also knows that she only has a superficial idea of each stakeholder’s interests and needs; she must dig deeper and that can’t be done in a group conversation.

Sara is highly Emotionally Intelligent, and her goal is to make each committee member feel heard and feel valued. She understands that the relationship-building strategies that work with one person will not work with all; each committee member has his or her own needs, issues, and perspectives, and those must be acknowledged and addressed.

Sara schedules a one-on-one meeting with each committee member prior to the main group meeting where final decisions about the change initiatives will be made.

Mitigating Conflict in Critical Conversations: Pre-Committee Meetings Using the Four-Step Process

Much of the work for setting the stage to any successful policy adoption in higher education is done prior to committee meetings. Strong one-on-one relationships create the fertile ground necessary for new initiatives to take root and grow.

In each of her one-on-one meetings, Sara employs the four-step conflict management and critical conversations process:  1) Reflect, 2) Plan, 3) Engage, 4) Move Forward.

Sara begins the one-on-one meetings with Mary, a tenured professor who is passionate about the advisory relationship and who is supportive of this policy initiative.

Since Mary is such a strong supporter of the policy initiative while also being extremely influential with other tenured professors, Sara’s key objective is to enlist Mary to influence Brian, the most ardent resistor of change and one of Mary’s closest colleagues.  Sara has no trouble getting Mary on board to help gain buy-in from Brian.

Sara continues to meet one-on-one with each committee member, working her way down the list from most supportive to most resistant.

With Carol, a junior faculty member who is still a year or two away from tenure consideration, Sara simply keeps Carol in the loop, ensuring that Carol’s enthusiasm for this policy initiative continues. Sara makes Carol feel heard and valued, which will bear fruit throughout their entire relationship working together.

When Sara meets with Sandra, another junior faculty member who’s in the queue for tenure consideration in the next few months, the dynamic between the two is strong. Sara’s goal entering the meeting was to keep Sandra informed and enlist her support in spreading positive feedback about the proposed changes. The meeting is a success.

Next, Sara meets individually with Donna and John, both of whom are basically neutral regarding the proposed changes.

Not surprisingly, Donna, a tenured professor who is not all that engaged but generally supportive of Sara as Vice Chair, agrees to support the proposed changes.  Donna commits to voicing her support during the committee meeting which will enhance the likelihood of the policy moving forward in the approval process.

John is a recently tenured faculty and viewed as a high potential leader. All faculty, both tenured and untenured, think very highly of John. He is also very respected by PhD students.

John has remained neutral largely because his plate is so full. He has been appointed to many committees, has recently started advising PhD students, and is busy with his own research and teaching. Although John is committed to being neutral to avoid the politics, he agrees to being supportive during the meeting. Sara and John’s working relationship is bolstered by the one-on-one connection, the exact outcome Sara needed.

John may not be an enthusiastic support of the policy initiative, but he’s not a barrier to the change either. Even better, his opinion of Sara is growing, and he’s sure to share that opinion with the other committee members, with whom his opinion matters greatly.

Sara’s next meeting is with Stuart.  Sara’s goal in meeting with Stuart, the tenured researcher who is known for being anti-change in general, is to get Stuart to understand that he will be minimally impacted by the proposed changes and that Sara’s intentions are truly for the betterment of the department overall and not a political ploy.

Sara prepares for Stuart to be skeptical, which he is. In the meeting, Sara allows Stuart ample time to voice his thoughts and ideas in their one-on-one meeting; Stuart needs to be heard and he has a lot to say, much of which is off-topic, but Sara knows that listening to Stuart will work wonders for their ongoing relationship. The meeting is a success; Stuart agrees to remain neutral on the change rather than resist it.

Sara deliberately saves Brian as her last one-on-one meeting. With Brian, the tenured faculty member who is three years from retirement and who is not particularly engaged but fiercely opposed to change, Sara knows she’s facing an uphill battle.

Sara’s main plan for Brian was to get others in the department to influence him before Sara and Brian’s one-on-one meeting.  The strategy worked:  Brian’s heard many supportive comments, especially from Carol and John, both of whom he highly respects.

Still, Brian is a tough case to crack. He’s open to listening to Sara in their meeting because his colleagues spoke so highly of her, and then dominates the conversation on all the reasons they shouldn’t change. He remains fiercely opposed to change of any kind.

Throughout their conversation, Sara employs active listening, asks questions, and shares why she’s presenting the policy change to the committee. Sara assures Brian she will consider his perspective.

Brian is stuck in his ways and isn’t going to change; Sara suspected this in planning for the meeting, but their face-to-face interaction confirms this fact. Still, in all likelihood Sara will be working with Brian for three more years until Brian retires and she doesn’t want those years to be adversarial. They agree that moving forward they’ll have monthly one-on-one meetings where they can address issues that are important to each of them and to the team as well.

The Committee Meeting

 The climate of the group meeting is genuinely respectful.  Everyone arrives with clear expectations of what is happening and understands how the proposed changes will impact them.

Brian, who is still resistant to the change, offers some modest changes to the proposed policy initiative, and the committee agrees to implement his suggestions. Brian still doesn’t want to change, but since his suggestions were favorably considered, he is far less likely to be proactively disruptive as the changes are implemented.

Sara’s work in the pre-committee meetings ensured she had the support she needed to vote in adopting a formal advising policy for the department.

Sara’s adept handling of the conflict situation and the critical conversations demonstrated that she is an insightful, thoughtful, caring, visionary leader. Her reputation was bolstered tenfold by how adeptly she handled this situation.

Had Sara not understood the principles of conflict management and critical conversations, this meeting could have been a disaster and the change initiative would have failed miserably. Her careful and strategic relationship-building beforehand made the entire process less confrontational and more successful overall.

Conflict In Critical Conversations Summary

Knowing how to handle conflict situations, difficult people, and critical conversations are all crucial skills for all higher education leaders. You will face conflict. You will encounter difficult people. You must proactively conduct critical conversations, otherwise you’ll find that misunderstandings and conflict will escalate.


As I introduced in Emotional Intelligence and Conflict: Vital Lessons for Higher Education Leaders, building your Emotional Intelligence is the first and most important step to becoming an effective conflict manager and critical conversations expert. I work with higher education executives to build these skills all the time, in one-on-one coaching sessions and in group training sessions where I teach the essentials of strong Emotional Intelligence. Be sure to contact me if you or your team needs help in this area.

In part two of this series, the 4 Steps to Approaching Critical Conversations: A Roadmap for Higher Education Leaders, I walked you through the 4-step model that helps you manage any conflict situation more effectively.

Finally, in the case study presented here, you saw how the four steps (reflect, plan, engage, and move forward) along with stakeholder mapping work together to help higher education leaders prepare for and conduct critical conversations and address conflict situations successfully.

Thank you for following this series.  I know you’re a busy leader and your higher education responsibilities demand a lot from you.  I also know that the skills you learned here will help you be seen as highly respected and visionary leader, which will in turn fuel your success throughout your entire career.

If you need any further help with building your Emotional Intelligence or with developing conflict management and communication skills for you or your team, please contact me at Sadlouskos Consulting Services.  I’d be happy to help you.


If you’d like to read more about Emotional Intelligence, a critical component in developing the effective communication skills, I recommend Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, written by Daniel Goleman which he published in 1995 along with four highly popular articles in the Harvard Business Review.

4 Steps to Approaching Critical Conversations: A Roadmap for Higher Education Leaders

April 23, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

Note: This is the 2nd part of a 3-part series on Effective Communication in Conflict for Higher Education Leaders.  If you missed the 1st part of the series on Emotional Intelligence, you can read it here.

As an executive coach for higher education leaders, I’m often asked to coach executives and leadership staff on how to improve their ability to handle conflict and conduct critical conversations. I get asked about this subject so often that I developed and teach a course called Effective Communications:  How to Approach Critical Conversations and Conflict Situations, which is designed for higher education leaders who face situations that are often unique to educational environments.

This post is the second in a three-part series on handling conflict and critical conversations in a higher education environment. Last time, I discussed the critical role your Emotional Intelligence plays in your success in conflict. Today, I’ll walk you through a four-step model that helps you approach critical conversations and conflict situations successfully.

The Four Steps to Approaching Handling Conflict and Critical Conversations as a Leader in Higher Education

There are 4 key steps in my model for approaching conflict and critical conversations. They are:



Each step requires different thinking strategies and behaviors from the higher education leader. Together, these four steps allow you to navigate difficult, often emotionally charged conflict situations with greater ease and skill.






Reflection is the first step for handling conflict and critical conversations, andyou need to do this before you speak with anyone.

Reflection is the act of preparing yourself for what’s ahead and think through the outcomes that you want to achieve, the needs others may have, and mentally prepare yourself for the difficult conversation you anticipate.

Four questions to ask yourself at this stage include:

  1. What are my goals?
  2. What are his/her possible goals?
  3. How will Iget into the right frame of mind to have this conversation?
  4. What are other possible reflection points that I need to consider?

I recommend using a powerful tool called mind mapping to prepare for difficult situations. Mind mapping is an intuitive brainstorming framework that allows for generating ideas without regard to linear structure or order. Per the illustration, start with a concept and brainstorm a list of connected ideas.




In step one, you reflected on all the goals and conditions that you anticipate experiencing during the actual conversation. In step two, you create a plan for how you intend to handle the actual conversation where you address the conflict with the other party/parties involved.

This 4-step model can be applied to conversations with other higher education leaders, colleagues (administrative or faculty), students, or other individuals with whom you interact.

The four questions you ask yourself in this step are:

  1. What does success look like?
  2. What information do I need?
  3. How might we move toward partnership?
  4. What are the other options?

There may be only one outcome for success, or you may be open to multiple outcomes for success.  You may not be able to anticipate all the information you need at this point, but you need to gather all the information you believe you’ll need and have a plan for acquiring that which you don’t have during the actual conversation.

The goal of every critical conversation is to move people closer together instead of farther apart.  As a higher education leader, you want to build consensus and a collaborative team spirit, not cause chasms to widen.

Before the actual conversation, you need to consider what steps you would be willing to take to reach a more congenial relationship and what conditions you won’t accept. Think through all your options in the planning stage of the process.


Step three is when you get to the heart of the matter in a live interaction. Your job here is to engage the person or people you’re conversing with, extending compassion, respect, and an open mind.  As a higher education leader, you must balance the emotional temperature of the room, expressing yourself and your goals calmly, clearly, and decisively.  Sometimes your most important job at this stage is to just listen.

You may begin the conversation with the phrase “I’d like to talk about ________ with you, but first I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Ask as many questions as it takes for you to get a clear picture of what’s going on.


In step three, you figure out what’s really going on and what critical issues are on the table (which may be different than what you originally anticipated).

Step four focuses on how the parties involved will move forward together. The goal of this step is to formulate a clear, complete vision for what is to happen next.

The questions you need to answer in this step include:

  1. What are our agreed-upon, concrete steps going forward?
  2. How will we communicate going forward?

Finally, as a leader, you need to “debrief” this encounter once you’re alone.

Reflect on what happened, what went well, what didn’t, goals for the future, etc.  It’s a good time to return to step one and go through the reflection process to prepare yourself for the future.

 Facing Conflict Situations in Higher Education: Two Examples of the Four-Step Approach in Action

I’ve coached several executives in using this four-step model, and I know it is a valuable tool for the specific scenarios you face as a leader in higher education.

For example, one of the leaders I worked with was about to lead an academic department meeting where there was no buy-in for program changes.  He was a relatively new leader and knew he was facing an up-hill battle. Using the four-step approach I’ve described here, he was able to prepare for his meeting more effectively, ascertain the real issues that had not yet surfaced, and create a spirit of collaboration in his meeting. In the end, he won significant support for his change initiatives.

Another example where this four-step approach proved invaluable was for a new VP at a prominent educational institution.  She came to me for help because she was about to have a meeting with one of her new staff members, someone who’d applied for her VP role and was not hired.  The new VP understood that their working relationship would be greatly impacted by how she approached their first meeting together. I walked her through the four-step model, and she was able to prepare for and conduct the meeting with ease and grace.  The two work together beautifully today, thanks to the care that the VP took with anticipating and preparing for the critical conversation.

Final Thoughts for Higher Education Leaders Facing Conflict Situations

Your role as a leader in higher education requires you to be adept at handling conflict situations and critical conversations with finesse, empathy, and determination.

As was discussed in part one of this series, building your Emotional Intelligence is the first step to becoming more skilled in conflict.

Using the four-step approach to critical conversations that I’ve introduced today is the next step, and it is certain to help you be more successful in difficult encounters you face as a leader in higher education.

Navigating conflict successfully is a skill that will not only help you improve overall results on your team but will also give you a career advantage for years to come.

In my third and final installment of this series, I will walk you through a case study drawn from real-life conflict situations in a higher education environment where the 4-step model I introduced today is applied.

In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss this 4-step model with me directly, or inquire about my executive coaching services for higher education leaders, let’s get better acquainted. Contact me at  [email protected]


Emotional Intelligence and Conflict: Vital Lessons for Higher Education Leaders

April 8, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

Emotional Intelligence and conflict management skills are among the most important competencies for higher education leaders to master. It turns out the two skillsets are also directly correlated.

As a leader in higher education, you are already keenly aware that conflict is both inevitable and sometimes extremely difficult to mitigate. You also understand the importance of addressing conflicts before they get out of hand.

Because conflict management and resolution are so important for higher education leaders, I’ve devoted a full three-part series to the subject. In this series, you’ll learn how to tap into your Emotional Intelligence to deal effectively with emotionally-charged situations and high-stakes conversations, key conflict management skills that will set you apart as a remarkable leader.

In this first installment of this three-part series, we will concentrate on understanding the power of Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence Defined

Emotional Intelligence is your ability to accurately perceive and understand your own emotions and feelings, as well as others’ emotions and feelings. When your Emotional Intelligence is strong, you are better able to handle social situations and interactions with others with tact and skill. Emotionally Intelligent people are more adept at forming strong interpersonal relationships; they also make great leaders, because they better understand the emotionally-charged needs of those they lead.

Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of Emotional Intelligence in his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, which he published in 1995 along with four highly popular articles in the Harvard Business Review.

Leaders who possess strong Emotional Intelligence make better decisions, solve even difficult problems more easily, understand the dynamics of human factors in the workplace more precisely, and form better working relationships with staff, peers, and executive management.

As a seasoned coach to higher education executives, I employ the EQi-2.0 assessment to help measure a leader’s command of various aspects of Emotional Intelligence.

Today I will introduce you to fundamentals of the EQ-i 2.0 Model. There are many things you can learn from this insightful tool to improve your ability to navigate conflict and crucial conversations more easily.

The EQi-2.0 Model® 

Based on the original model authored by Dr. Reuven Bar-On, the EQ-I 2.0 Model explores a total of 15 key competencies, all nestled under five core Emotional Intelligence proficiencies, which are: Self-Perception, Self-Expression, Interpersonal, Decision-Making, and Stress Management.

1. Self-Perception  

Self-perception is both how you view and regard yourself; it is a measure of your emotional self-awareness. Self-perception involves your sense of self-confidence and personal strength.  How confident do you feel?  How strong do you feel?

When you feel confident in yourself and feel powerful, you are far more likely to go after what you want in life, despite how difficult the journey might be. People are drawn to leaders who demonstrate a healthy sense of self-confidence and personal power

2. Self-Expression

Self-expression considers how you express yourself outwardly. Leaders with high Emotional Intelligence feel free to express their thoughts and ideas without being overly worried about what others think.  They also express themselves in constructive and caring ways, as opposed to coming across passive or, at the other end of the spectrum, using intimidation tactics (which are both indicators of insecurity, and hence, low Emotional Intelligence).

Leaders with high Emotional Intelligence are naturally good at handling the feelings and emotions that surface in conflict situations and critical conversations because people appreciate leaders who express empathy while offering clear and helpful contributions to the dialogue.

3. Interpersonal

Your interpersonal skills relate to your ability to form respectful and mutually beneficial interpersonal relationships. Strong interpersonal skills speak to your ability to establish trust with others.

As already mentioned, when your self-perception is strong, you possess the confidence required to form great interpersonal skills.  When your self-expression skills are strong, you can connect with people more easily, because you communicate in ways that show you care.

The ability to demonstrate a true understanding of another’s perspective and express sincere interest in others are attributes required for successful leadership, especially in times of conflict.

4. Decision-Making

Your decision-making skills include how you go about solving problems while fully understanding and considering the emotional factors involved in the problem.

A person with strong Emotional Intelligence easily resists the urge to act on impulses and remains objective throughout the decision-making process, rather than opting for the much less effective, rash decision-making style that bends to raw emotions and pure impulse.

The stronger your Emotional Intelligence, the stronger your decision-making abilities are in conflict situations.

5. Stress Management

Stress management considers your ability to handle the high demands you face as a higher education leader while maintaining a sense of flexibility and optimism.

Do you succumb to stress easily or is your stress tolerance quite high?

A leader who possesses strong stress management skills handles change more easily, remains hopeful about the future, and is strong enough to be resilient when facing tough problems and unexpected hurdles.

Conflict situations tend to be inherently stressful.  Leaders who are adept at handling conflict typically possess exceptionally strong stress management skills

A higher education leader who has a strong command of self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal skills, decision-making, and stress-management is poised to be excellent at handling difficult conversations and conflict situations.

Three Reasons Emotional Intelligence Is Required for Handling Conflict

Research clearly shows that strong Emotional Intelligence gives leaders a considerable advantage when facing conflict situations and difficult people. Here are three reasons this is true:

1. The Leader Recognizes How Emotions Translate into Thinking and Behavior

Leaders who don’t understand the emotional factors that enter others’ (and their own) thinking processes and behaviors are ill-equipped to handle the often emotionally-charged conversations common in conflict.  Leaders who are adept at reading the emotional landscape are well-equipped to bring calm to situations that could otherwise easily escalate into chaos. Remaining clear and cool-headed are hallmarks of a savvy leader.

2. The Leader Knows Triggers and Anticipates How to Respond

Leaders who understand the human factors that enter conflict situations are far better able to avoid triggers that could make the conflict situation even worse.  Because they understand the emotions involved, leaders with strong Emotional Intelligence are also better able to anticipate the emotional impact of conflict situations, and hence, can create better strategies to respond to conflicts.

3. Emotional Intelligence Expands a Leader’s Executive Presence

As I’ve stated in previous posts,I consistently find there’s a missing link for many higher education leaders, namely, executive presence.  This link is not missing for leaders who possess strong Emotional Intelligence.

Leaders who command Emotional Intelligence are far better able to convey confidence and build exceptional careers, as they rise far higher far faster than their colleagues who fail to build their Emotional Intelligence skills

In Summary:  The Stronger Your Emotional Intelligence, the Better You Are At Handling Conflict as a Leader

Knowing how to employ your Emotional Intelligence in the face of conflict is key to being successful as a leader in higher education.

Are you curious about your Emotional Intelligence aptitude? Or are you interested in a fresh perspective on your own leadership skills from a seasoned higher education executive coach?  I’d like to hear from you. Let’s get the conversation started-contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss the many possible paths forward.

In my next post, I will show you a four-step approach to handling critical conversations in a higher education environment while tapping into your Emotional Intelligence.  Stay tuned.


Higher Education Presidents & Leaders: Are You Leading Like a Wartime CEO Yet? Why You Should Be.

March 19, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

As an executive coach and consultant to higher education leaders for more than 20 years, I have an up-close-and-personal view of higher education trends that have the potential to give power to major disruption in how leaders lead. This post is the first of a series that explores how the changing higher education landscape necessitates university presidents and leaders to embrace innovative and disruptive approaches to leadership.

We have entered a time of tremendous change for higher education, leaders who recognize that change is underway will navigate the unpredictable terrain more successfully.

I’ll first talk about why I believe we are in a “wartime” situation in higher education, and then I will discuss the advanced strategies CEO’s use in wartime that I recommend higher education executives adopt to thrive in the years ahead.

The Changing Higher Education Landscape

Higher education institutions are facing unprecedented financial pressure. State and local government funding continues to decline.  Revenue from tuition and fees continue to drop as student enrollments in traditional undergraduate and graduate programs continue to decline.  Private gifts, grants, endowment income, and partnerships are now integral to college and university financial models, and yet competition for these funds has never been more intense.

If you’ve been watching what’s been happening in higher education in recent years, you’ve also undoubtedly noticed massive shifts in how learners want to learn, which in turn impacts how educational institutions operate.

Some of these shifts present threats to ongoing organizational viability, particularly institutions that are not adapting their educational models appropriately.  The good news is that the shifts in user-demand for learning also present opportunities, that is if leadership is visionary and quick-acting enough to take advantage of the opportunity within this season of massive change.

Top Trends in Higher Education that Leaders Must Understand

College Closures:  Shrinking enrollments in small liberal arts colleges are forcing institutions to close their doors. After 114 years, Sweet Briar College, a Virginia-based women’s college closed in 2015, as did Tennessee Temple University.  Westech College, New England Institute of Art,and Vantage College all closed in 2017. 2018 saw many more closings, including Briarcliffe College, Virginia College, and Cameron College.  These are just a handful of examples; analysts predict more closures ahead.

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen predicts that 50% of colleges and universities will close or go bankrupt in the next ten years.  I’m not sure the situation is that dire, yet from what I’ve seen, there are deep reasons for higher education leaders to be concerned.

Mergers:  To combat the tide of dropping enrollments from traditional students, some higher education institutions have merged with others in order to stay afloat.  For example, in Vermont, Johnson State College and Lyndon State College combined to become Northern Vermont University. Most recently in January 2019, Hampshire College has announced that they are seeking a partner to ward off closure.

The Rise of the Mega-University:   More and more universities are scaling their operations to join the “mega-university” trend, affordable education programs delivered to anyone, anywhere, any time.

For example, according to Martin T. Meehan, President of the University of Massachusetts system, UMass is planning to start delivering education along the lines of other mega-universities, such as Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University, which serve tens of thousands of students by offering inexpensive, flexible, online programs.

When learners have cheaper, more flexible, still high-quality forms of learning to turn to, as they do in the case of the mega-universities, traditional institutions lose enrollments. Traditional models are challenged to compete.

 The Changing Face of Learners:  One of the potential opportunities for higher education institutions is the opportunity to serve more different types of learners, namely, adult learners.  To stay competitive in today’s job market, adult learners are investing in their education at record levels.

New Modalities for Delivering Education:  The days of the giant lecture hall may be entering their twilight. For example, Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona has ditched impersonal large lectures altogether, instead adopting a learning formula that focuses on collaboration while incorporating technology for problem-solving.

The new model blends in-person collaborative learning in smaller, more informal settings coupled with online interactive homework modules. According to ASU President Michael Crow, the new model has increased four-year graduation rates to 52% in 2016 from 34% in 2010.  Thus far, the ASU learning model has been adopted by 30 other mostly large, public universities.

What Is a Wartime CEO?

When times are tough, corporate CEOs adapt to what’s often referred to as “wartime” leadership strategies. Ben Horowitz, author of The Hard Thing About Hard Thingsexplains that in wartime “a company is fending off an imminent existential threat. Such a threat can come from a wide range of sources including competition, dramatic macroeconomic change, market change, supply chain change, and so forth.”

Horowitz explains that wartime CEOs must focus on the prime directive; individual feelings simply cannot be allowed to get in the way.  Peacetime CEOs work to build consensus, while wartime CEOs demand allegiance and compliance.

Horowitz refers to Steve Jobs’ return to Apple as a prime example of a wartime CEO in action. “When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company was weeks away from bankruptcy—a classic wartime scenario. He needed everyone to move with precision and follow his exact plan; there was no room for individual creativity outside of the core mission.”

What University Presidents Can Learn from Wartime vs. Peacetime CEOs

Today’s higher education leaders need to take a long hard look at how CEOs behave in wartime,because the unprecedented changes happening in higher education today call for extreme measures.

The chart below shows a few examples of organizational differences in the peacetime vs. wartime concept. Leaders must adapt their leadership style in accordance with the conditions they face.










Peacetime CEOs have time on their side, which means they can act more slowly, indulge in more debate, and nurture individuals’ career growth. Wartime CEOs must act quickly, decisively, and focus on the key directive for the organization; individual needs take a back seat while action towards organizational survival takes center stage.

Higher Education Presidents and Universities Already Embracing Wartime Tactics

Just as there are many examples of struggling colleges and universities right now, there are also many examples of organizations whose executives are embracing wartime leadership strategies and making tremendous gains for their institutions.

As already mentioned, ASU’s decision to ditch the large lecture hall for personal, face-to-face learning environments combined with interactive online studies has resulted in huge gains in student enrollment, retention, and graduation rates.  Since 2002, ASU has grown to more than 80,000 students, many of which are below the poverty line.

ASU also innovated by entering into an agreement with Starbucks to provide online courses to the coffee chain’s employees (a joint venture funded by both Starbucks and ASU).

As I mentioned earlier, many organizations are embracing the “mega-college” trend, offering online degree programs that drive overall enrollment counts way up, helping to shore up the financial strength of the organization so it can serve both on-campus and off-campus learners.  We already talked about The University of Massachusetts system taking a step into this arena this year, but that’s just one of many educational institutions embracing the call to innovate.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has a core philosophy of “learn by doing,” which is one of the reason’s it is considered one of the nation’s best educational values in North America. An example of innovation at Cal Poly is their The Innovation Sandbox, which is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment that allows students to apply classroom learning as well as collaborate with other students on independent research projects. This hands-on approach to learning gives Cal Poly an edge in the learning marketplace.

Four Winning Strategies for University Presidents to Adapt to Turbulent Times Ahead

  1. Push Boundaries.  Explore new possibilities. Draw inspiration from other educational organizations and non-educational organizations, too.  Never let what has been done get in the way of what can be done now.
  2. Adopt a Shapeshifting Mindset.  Foster disruptive innovation. Become a catalyst for shifting the norms of what’s considered high-quality educational delivery. Rethink the how’s, who’s, what’s and why’s of learning.  Pay attention to what learners are asking for and give them what they want and need.
  3. Use Intuition-Based Decision Making.  In peacetime, you have plenty of time for methodical testing; in wartime, you do not. Trust your vision. Depend on your vast experience as a leader to make big calls without necessarily having all the research you’d prefer to have.  Fortune favors the bold.
  4. Embrace Surprise.  Where you plan to lead your organization may take a different form than what you’re imagining right now. When you adjust one “cog,” it can change everything. So, be ready for surprises and embrace the opportunities they bring along with them.

Adapt Your Leadership Strategy to that of a Wartime CEO 

The evidence is clear:  higher education institutions are operating in a wartime environment.  It is the role of higher education’s top leaders to drive the innovation required to make it through this wartime period successfully.

This is why it is so important for today’s higher education leaders to embrace the role of the “wartime” CEO.  By doing so, they can assure their educational institutions not only survive but thrive well into the future.

Are you interested in this topic? Or are you interested in a fresh perspective on your own leadership aptitude or career trajectory from a seasoned higher education executive coach? I’d like to hear from you.   Let’s get the conversation started- contact me at

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