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 dianna@sadlouskos.com.

Executive Presence: The Missing Link for Higher Education Leaders Eager to Advance Their Careers

March 6, 2019 by  
Filed under Leadership Coaching

I have been an executive coach and advisor to academic and administrative leaders and aspiring leaders in higher education for more than 20 years. Not surprisingly, when the topic of career growth comes up, I consistently find there’s a missing link for many higher education leaders, namely, executive presence.

Many academic and administrative leaders focus on the tactical steps in preparing to grow their leadership careers, such as polishing their resumes and CVs, increasing their networking, and honing their interviewing skills.

Although these tactical steps are important, leaders need to consider how to deepen or expand their competencies in stepping back to look at their overall leadership aptitude and how they are perceived as a leader. Executive presence influences their present performance and impacts their entire career.

What Is Executive Presence? 

Executive presence has multiple dimensions – starting with how you’re seen by others. Your executive presence speaks not only to your knowledge level or credibility in your field, but also to your fitness to lead others. Fitness to lead includes your ability to demonstrate emotional intelligence in a myriad of situations.

Executive presence starts with the ability to demonstrate both humility and confidence.

Humility is a highly underrated leadership trait. Administrative staff and faculty who perceive a sense of humility in their leaders create stronger bonds with those leaders. Leaders with humility seek to understand other perspectives. They are also willing to implement a new direction when alternate perspectives demonstrate an improved path forward.  Another instance of humility is when leaders share their own mistakes as teachable moments, their colleagues see their vulnerability which makes leaders come across as more relatable.

Administrative staff and faculty respond more favorably to leaders who aren’t afraid to show their human side. Leaders who see their roles as a call to serve those whom they lead garner respect, admiration, and loyalty.  

Leaders also need to possess a healthy sense of self-confidence.

Administrative staff and faculty look to their leaders for direction.  A leader’s confidence instills confidence in the team that everything is going to work out, and it’s especially important in times of change and turbulence. Self-assured leaders garner trust which makes confidence a key skill required to exude a powerful executive presence.

Moreover, confidence is essential to advancing in a leadership career in higher education.  Self-assured leaders rise higher in their careers, far faster than their apprehensive colleagues.

The most successful leaders also have a keen sense of self-awareness; they are in touch with their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Self-aware leaders understand their inner wiring and this helps them respond appropriately in typical leadership situations that require thoughtful responses rather than mere gut-based reactions. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Self-Awareness, notes that self-awareness is a trait that is highly correlated with leadership excellence.

Executive presence is also tied to a leader’s approach to interacting with others. Exceptional leaders ask good questions and practice active listening. They are adept at pausing before speaking, instead of being reactionary.

Highly respected leaders include others in decision-making. Leaders who seek input from others make better decisions because they are able to see situations from a much wider viewpoint than they ever could on their own. Plus, when people feel included in the decision-making process, they feel valued and are more likely to buy-in to the final decision.  Making people feel heard, understood, involved, and appreciated are all hallmarks of great leaders.

Another competency required to be seen as an exceptional executive in higher education is a solid understanding of when and how to set boundaries. Firm yet fair boundaries ensure team members understand what’s acceptable and what’s not. Without boundaries there is chaos, but with smart boundaries there is clarity and a sense of order, which helps everyone on the team understand their roles and responsibilities.

Perhaps the one trait that speaks to a leader’s executive potential the loudest (and hence, their career growth potential), it is the leader’s ability to formulate a compelling vision that is clearly articulated and which gains unwavering support from their team. In their book, The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner note “There’s nothing more demoralizing than a leader who can’t clearly articulate why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Leaders who can think and act strategically and who can turn their ideas into a strong vision that resonates with others are in high demand. Vision is a key competency for successful leaders; those who create strong visions are more likely to rise in their higher education careers.

3 Actions You Can Take to Improve Your Executive Presence

As a Leadership Coach to executives in higher education, I’ve helped hundreds of leaders growth their careers by helping them understand and build their executive presence.

Here are three actions I highly recommend you take immediately to improve your executive presence.

1. Get first-hand feedback on your leadership style and your leadership aptitude. Consider implementing a 360 Performance Review so you can get feedback from employees, peers, and upper management. Also, consider undergoing a professional leadership assessment  (I can help you with that).

2. Conduct a self-discovery process by performing a self-audit on your executive presence.Take a look at key situations you’ve experienced thus far in your career. Highlight scenarios where you’ve experienced exceptional results, moderate results, and weak or dismal results. Consider all the factors discussed in this post (confidence, humility, listening skills, involving others in decisions, setting boundaries, self-awareness, strategic vision). Where have you excelled? Where can you improve?

3. Develop an action plan for improving your executive presence using SMART goals(specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time-based).

Would you like to enhance your executive presence? Or, would you like to help members of your academic or administrative leadership team enhance their executive presence?  Get a fresh perspective on your leadership aptitude or career trajectory from a seasoned higher education executive coach.  Let’s get the conversation started– contact me at dianna@sadlouskos.com.

Women Leaders in Higher Education: My Faculty Experience at the HERS Institute

I have been absolutely energized by my experience with the HERS Leadership Institutes. A few months ago I was asked to be a faculty member at the HERS  which focuses on developing women leaders in higher education. The institutes are held annually at the University of Denver, Bryn Mawr College, and Wellesley College. At the University of Denver and Bryn Mawr College locations, 70 aspiring and sitting leaders attend these respective institutes for two consecutive weeks. I presented my course on effective communication and conflict management at these two institutes in the last few weeks.

What Inspired and Impressed Me

I was deeply inspired by these talented women – academics, administrators, and researchers – taking such a significant block of time out of their busy lives to invest in personal and professional growth.  What also impressed me was the participants’ openness to sharing personal and professional successes and vulnerabilities; the shared camaraderie and enthusiasm in building a new community of peers; and the commitment to support and cheer each other on as each participant continues on their own individual career trajectory.

Next Generation Leaders: Women with Passion

The current and next generation of women leaders in higher education represented at these institutes demonstrated a passion for higher education that will serve the industry well. I feel lucky to have been a part of this experience.

And speaking of passion- in the photo, that’s me – doing what I love- sharing what I know about the impact emotional intelligence has on preparing for difficult conversations.

Would you like to enhance the communication skills of your leadership team or department? Or perhaps you’d like a fresh perspective on your own leadership aptitude or career trajectory from a seasoned higher education executive coach?  Let’s get the conversation started- contact me at dianna@sadlouskos.com.


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

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

Academic Leadership: Onramp Options

Action 1: Define why.

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

Action 2: Identify your leadership strengths/blind spots.

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

Action 3: Craft a career-timeline.

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

Action 4: Be strategic about your application packet.

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

Would you like a fresh perspective on your career trajectory from a seasoned higher education executive coach? Let’s get the conversation started- contact me at dianna@sadlouskos.com.

Higher Education Executive Coach Series: Action Steps for Leadership Readiness & Emotional Intelligence Assessment

This is the first post in the “Higher Education Executive Coach” series for academic, administrative, and technology leaders as well as aspiring leaders.

January always brings new energy. We crave fresh perspectives on many things, including – of course – our career trajectory. Higher Education is ripe with career opportunities for academic, administrative, and technology leaders seeking a role with broader leadership responsibilities at a larger institution. Aspiring leaders like sitting AVPs, Associate Deans, Student Affairs professionals, IT Directors, and Senior Managers might use this New Year’s momentum to recast their managerial experience into a leadership role.

Given this renewed energy and the groundswell of job prospects, it’s an ideal occasion to think about the key drivers for professional growth – leadership readiness and emotional intelligence. Especially since executive search firms prioritize knowledge of these elements in candidate selection.

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

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 three to five 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 have expanded your experience and knowledge in your department or school, technology, and overall expertise in the higher education industry.
  • What would your manager, peers, and direct reports 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?

Evaluate your Aptitude for Leadership in Higher Education.

Over the course of your tenure as an employee in a university or college, you’ve likely accumulated experience in your specific organizational area.  However, assessing your aptitude for leadership is closely tied to understanding the complexities of campus culture, decision-making across diverse constituencies, and stakeholder dynamics. Determine your readiness by reflecting on the following questions:

  • How well do you understand administrative, school, and departmental business issues and opportunities?
  • If you have a technology role, what experience do you have as a technology ambassador across campus?
  • How do you describe how your organization (or division) aligns goal setting with institutional planning?
  • What reputation have you built as a trusted advisor to faculty, staff, and senior campus leadership?
  • In what ways do you enhance your knowledge of the business of higher education?
  • How do you contribute to the broader “Higher Education as an industry” discussion with peers at other institutions and professional associations?

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?

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.

You’ve likely had success in ascending to your current role because of your solid subject matter expertise in technology, student affairs, finance, or your academic area. But that’s not enough. In my work with 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.

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 three 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 whet your appetite for self-assessment, there are many excellent industry standard resources available. These assessments can provide additional insight that can guide clear and realistic goal setting and action planning to keep you on course for achieving your career goals. Two of my favorites are:

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

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 dianna@sadlouskos.com.

Coaching Tomorrow’s Academic Leaders: Career Pathways in Higher Education

Have you spent most of your career as a faculty member, researcher, or scholar in a university or college setting? Are you thinking about possible career paths in academic or university leadership? Advancement to leadership in higher education can be a bumpy transition. An executive coach with an expertise in working with academic leaders and faculty aspiring to make a change may lessen the difficulty in this career progression.

First, let’s consider why a change in career path is an important consideration.

Faculty are thinking differently about their long-term job prospects in traditional academic roles and considering other pathways for career success. The landscape of academic employment opportunities are increasingly competitive and diminishing every year. Conditions that influence the current environment include:

  • Decreased number of tenure positions
  • Budget cuts with more students per class
  • New teaching and learning models that result in expanded work loads

The pressures and challenges in this environment are a call to action. Below are three inputs to ponder when developing a career strategy:

Aptitude for Leadership  in Higher Education

Deans, department chairs, and provosts’ responsibilities involve complexities related to institutional governance and politics, managing and allocating decreasing financial resources, and providing leadership to faculty, staff, and students. Are you up to the challenge? How do the following responsibilities resonate with you?

  • Set strategy and academic priorities
  • Build and nurture relationships at all levels on campus and beyond
  • Lead and manage in an ever-changing environment
  • Promote collaboration and build consensus in tough decision-making environment
  • Mentor new faculty and be a trusted advisor to veteran faculty
  • Be a master communicator with the ability to have tough conversations with your faculty about performance issues, shrinking resources and budget, and shifting tenure/administrative processes

Next step is to consider how your current strengths align with the above responsibilities and where possible skill gaps exist.

Minding the Emotional Intelligence Gap

This is an area that is somewhat intangible. At the most definitive level, emotional intelligence is how well you use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. Emotional Intelligence affects how we express ourselves, navigate social complexities, and make decisions – often in stressful situations. Emotional Intelligence, unlike IQ, is based on a set of skills that can be honed and improved over time. I find that the most significant gap between executives and aspiring leaders is Emotional Intelligence.  The foundation for successful leadership is the capacity to inhabit executive presence. Emotional Intelligence is the differentiator between strategic leadership and tactical management.

Seeking Guidance: How can a Higher Education Executive Coach Help?

Four ideas come to mind:

  • As a thought partner in exploring possible pathways to a leadership role;
  • as a guide to re-package academic and administrative experience for an institutional leadership role;
  • to assess aptitude for leadership and to create a development plan to improve positioning for career opportunities; and
  • to provide ongoing support to expand executive presence while ascending leadership ranks within your institution.

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 dianna@sadlouskos.com.

The Path to IT Leadership in Higher Education: Are You Ready?

mind-the-gap-1876790_1920If you keep up on the latest technology news related to universities and colleges or you’ve attended EDUCAUSE events in the last few years then you know that in the next 3- 5 years, 50% or more CIOs will be retiring. For aspiring technology leaders – this is a favorable time to contemplate how to seize this opportunity and reflect on your path to a leadership role. What are the considerations for a sitting Deputy CIO (DCIO), IT Director, or Senior Manager?  Below are three inputs to ponder to develop a career strategy:

1. IT Career Path: Mind the Gap.

If you’re employed in a university or college IT organization you’ve likely garnered experience in some or all of these areas: infrastructure, enterprise technology, networking, help desk (student, faculty and staff support), IT security, etc.  Important questions to consider:

  • What experience do you have in being a technology ambassador across campus?
  • How have you demonstrated the value of technology in solving complex issues across campus?
  • What experience have you built being a trusted advisor to faculty, staff, and senior campus leadership?
  • How do you contribute to the broader “IT in higher education” discussion with IT peers at other institutions and professional associations?
  • If there are gaps, what opportunities can you take advantage of or create to be on the right career trajectory?

2. Aptitude for IT Leadership in Higher Education.

EDUCAUSE has developed a key model for IT leadership in higher education. The model illustrates the role IT leaders currently play and key considerations for the future.

Fig. 1: A Model for IT Leadership. Technology in Higher Education: Defining the Strategic Leader. Research report. Jisc and EDUCAUSE, March 2015.

Fig. 1: A Model for IT Leadership. Technology in Higher Education: Defining the Strategic Leader. Research report. Jisc and EDUCAUSE, March 2015.




Read more about the EDUCAUSE Model for IT Leadership Here

A great first step is to map your own portfolio of experience to the leadership attributes depicted in this model.




3. Emotional Intelligence.

This is an area that is somewhat intangible. At the most definitive level, emotional intelligence is how well you use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. Emotional intelligence affects how we express ourselves, navigate social complexities, and make decisions- often in stressful situations. If you’ve had success as a DCIO, IT Director or Senior Manager you may have solid if not expert technical skills.  In my work with IT leaders and aspiring leaders I find the most significant gap between being an IT leader and an IT Director (or Manager) is emotional intelligence. At the very foundation of successful leadership is the capacity to inhabit executive presence. Emotional Intelligence is the difference between strategic leadership and tactical management.

 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 dianna@sadlouskos.com.

What Swimming From Alcatraz to San Francisco Taught Me About Higher Education Consulting

Alcatraz Swim_DiannaSadlouskosGenerally, I write about strategic planning or operations improvement in higher education.  Last month, however, I swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco.  At first I didn’t know that setting this personal goal and the hours of swimming in the ocean as I trained for the event had any connection to my professional pursuits.

I was wrong. After the event, I saw how my personal passion for swimming and for challenging my physical limits related specifically to my work.

Six things I learned from the Alcatraz swim that transforms how I approach my higher education consulting practice.

 1. Jump off the boat with abandon.

The day of the swim, I was confident in my ability to swim from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park. Turns out, the swim wasn’t the hard part of the endeavor.  Jumping off the boat seemed more challenging. As my toes hovered over the edge of the boat deck, fear paralyzed me. I took a deep breath, looked up at the beautiful blue sky, then glanced down at swirling water. My heart beat fast in anticipation. The unknown energized me, and I leaped. I was exhilarated – not afraid.  My attitude during the whole of my training for this event was that it was a “swim”.  I learned that, once I hit the water, it became a “race.” My love of “the race” propels me forward in all that I do, in a most positive and spirited way. Racing requires strategic thinking and a methodical approach. There are always unknowns, but it’s ok to not have all of the answers- adaptability and creativity are key elements.
Lesson: Take risks – don’t look back.

2. Do the work- stroke, breathe, stroke, and breathe.

I’m an avid pool swimmer who had a fear of the unpredictability of swimming in the ocean. I feared shark attacks, stepping on stingrays, jellyfish stings, ocean currents, swells and surf.  Some of my fears were irrational; some were a matter of awareness and spending time swimming in the ocean (much different from swimming in a pool). I substituted pool workouts for coached ocean swims and in the process learned to accept the unknowns. On the other side of all the preparation and practice I am a converted open water swim enthusiast.
Lesson: Never underestimate the importance of preparation and practice.

 3. Keep sighting the course ahead.

In open water swimming, it’s critical to sight a landmark to stay on course. Every 20 or 30 strokes I looked to sight two tall buildings behind Aquatic Park (the finish line), ensuring I was on course. If the current took me too far to the right, I swam in the direction equivalent of 10:00, or 2:00 if I were too far to the left.  Sighting on a consistent basis kept me on track for a more efficient, linear swim toward Aquatic Park.
Lesson: Goals need to be tangible- check on progress regularly.

 4. Stop and look around.

In the middle of the bay, I paused to take in the moment. Behind me Alcatraz, on either side of me the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, in front of me, the city of San Francisco. The sheer size of these iconic landmarks, treading water in the middle of the bay on this gorgeous sunny day: I was in awe of the beauty . As I started swimming again, I thought “not many people have the opportunity to enjoy the view from where I am – swimming in the bay.” My perspective was forever changed from that moment forward.
Lesson: Be present.

5. Cross the finish line with a tear and a smile.

Once I passed the sea wall entrance to Aquatic Park, I knew I had only a short 500 yards or so to the finish line.  I still had so much energy that I accelerated my stroke. When I ascended from the water to the shore with a few other swimmers I was overwhelmed with emotion – smiling uncontrollably with a few tears as well. As I looked for my sister and my friends I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to do this again next year.”
Lesson: Relish in the success.

6. Set a new goal. What’s next? Perhaps a swim around Manhattan…                    
Lesson: Smart, confident and directed- that’s who I am.

You’ve just read my professional and personal manifesto.

Would you like a fresh perspective on your campus or technology strategic plan?  Let’s get the discussion started- contact me at dianna@sadlouskos.com.

Next Page »