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 [email protected].


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

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

Academic Leadership: Onramp Options

Action 1: Define why.

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

Action 2: Identify your leadership strengths/blind spots.

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

Action 3: Craft a career-timeline.

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

Action 4: Be strategic about your application packet.

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

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

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. Executive Presence is a topic related to leadership readiness and emotional intelligence. Here’s another blogpost focused on Executive Presence.

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.

As a higher education executive coach, I recommend reflecting on where you are on your career path trajectory. 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 [email protected].

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 [email protected].

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 [email protected].

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 [email protected].

Higher Education CIOs & Aspiring Tech Leaders: Use Social Media to Build Your Personal Brand

Social Media for Higher Education CIOsThis post is part of an occasional career focused blog series for aspiring Higher Education CIOs or sitting CIOs. Previous posts can be accessed here.

Yesterday I read a great blog post by Dr. James Michael Nolan, President of Southwestern College.  He makes a case for the importance of social media in the business of higher education.   Social media is in large part how students engage in and develop relationships. Prospective students use social media to research and select where they will ultimately attend undergraduate or graduate school. Dr. Nolan states that student recruitment efforts rely heavily on social media as a marketing (and dare I say sales) platform because it’s where students hang out. Social media is how institutions build relationships with prospective students.

For career strategy, I believe that social media is an important tool for building a personal brand. If you are a sitting higher education CIO or an aspiring CIO, it is critical to consider how you are perceived in the broader IT community.  What expertise are you known for amonst your peers?  What attributes do you want your personal brand to represent? Moving up the IT career ladder requires an investment in building relationships across the broader IT community. Social media is the new model for establishing relationships locally and globally with other IT professionals, faculty, staff, student and higher education service providers — from your desk.  Dr. Nolan correctly states, “…relationships no longer begin with a handshake — they begin with a Retweet, a Like, a Share, a Subscribe, a Comment, an interchange in social media.” Whether you are sharing your opinion in LinkedIn Groups with like-minded peers, or tweeting articles that catch your attention- social media provides a ready platform to launch your personal brand as a leader in higher education.

Where to begin?  Start by studying how the early adopters use social media. Review profiles on LinkedIn and join LinkedIn Groups that share your interests.  Examples of groups are “EDUCAUSE” and if you’re interested in discussions on the benefits of technology on learning try the group “Improving Education Using Technology.”

There are many savvy higher education CIOs that have established a presence on social media; in essence building their personal brand. The key is to provide useful information about your area of expertise/interest through the lens of your own unique personality.

 4 Higher Education CIO Twitter Accounts to Follow:

  • Tim Chester,  VP, for Information Technology at University of Georgia

Take small steps in delving into social media.  Start by reviewing (or building) your LinkedIn profile. Ensure the content is well written and represents your accomplishments professionally. Conduct a search for a few groups to join.  Take time to read posts and comments to provide a sense as to how individuals participate. Sign up for a Twitter account and begin following a few individuals and organizations that interest you.

Questions to Consider

  1. How do you think your personal brand is perceived by others?
  2. What do you want my personal brand to reflect? Academic Technology guru? Innovative solution provider? Higher Education IT Visionary?
  3. What steps do you need to take to ramp up to your desired profile?

Interested in feedback on your career planning efforts or professional portfolio? Contact me at [email protected].

photo credit: greyweed via photopin cc

Aspiring IT Leaders: 4 Actions to Get You Closer to Landing a Higher Education CIO Role

Higher Education CIO Career Coaching This post is part of an occasional career focused blog series for aspiring Higher Education CIOs or sitting CIOs. Previous posts can be accessed here.

Are you a mid-level IT manager interested in preparing for the next step up in your career path?  If this is the case, take some time to evaluate your skills and experiences against essential skills institutions look for in a CIO.  The Center for Higher Education Chief Information Officers Studies, Inc. (CHECS), in their 2013 study of higher education chief information officers cite leadership, communication, technical knowledge, interpersonal skills and higher education knowledge as vital skills. If you find there are a few gaps in your background, here are 4 actions you can take to begin to develop attributes that are fundamental to the CIO role.

 4 Actions to Acquire Skills for a Higher Education CIO Role

  • Establish a mentor relationship. It doesn’t need to be an on-campus relationship; an executive coach or professional colleague will do. The goal is to gain valuable insight and guidance to begin positioning yourself for a leadership role. Reach out to someone whose career path you admire. Ask questions, run ideas by them, and learn from their experiences.
  • Engage in the IT professional community. Use social media to build up your business networking profile. Participate in groups on LinkedIn. Volunteer to speak at conferences or join constituent groups. Having a strong network of colleagues will be very useful throughout your career.  The goal of this action is advance your communication skills and position you as a leader in the IT professional community.
  • Form alliances in student services or other administrative units. Take time to understand current business issues across campus. When possible, volunteer to lead or participate in cross-campus committees. Reach out to your customer base– understand their business concerns and spend time studying your campus from a strategic perspective.
  • Have vision.  Develop opinions about how technology will transform the business of higher education.  Keep updated about current trends and controversies that fuel debates in the higher education community.

Questions to Consider

  1. What keeps the President/Provost up at night?
  2. What are your opinions about these issues and opportunities?

Interested in receiving feedback on your approach to landing your next career opportunity? Contact me at [email protected].

Corporate Tech Leaders: Interested in becoming a Higher Education CIO? Don’t Forget Your Cover Letter!

One of my ongoing consulting engagements is with an executive search firm that recruits technology leaders for higher education. Recently I’ve noticed an influx of applicants with a corporate background looking to transition to higher education. There are, of course, many similarities in the CIO role across industries. However, I find many industry changers make a detrimental error in their application packet: omitting a cover letter. Or equally unfavorable: including a generic cover letter.

Here are two tips that can improve the opportunity for a corporate CIO to be considered for a technology leadership role in higher education.

Why Higher Education?

Tell me, the executive search consultant, why you’re interested. Be specific. If you are interested because you are passionate- why are you passionate? Conduct research. What about higher education interests you? Demonstrate your knowledge of issues that impact technology leaders and the overall business of higher education. Don’t go overboard with details in the cover letter. Your cover letter should subtly show that you’ve done your homework about the institution and higher education.

Why You?

Technology leaders with significant experience in higher education are your competition. Help me understand why you should be considered for this role instead of an applicant with deep industry experience. In addition to a broad introduction to your background, correlate your experience to specific requirements for the position. Tell me about yourself in the context of the priorities for the role. If the primary priority for the new role is planning for academic technologies— highlight elements of your background that demonstrate your success working with a highly political constituency. What are the other experiences in your background that can correlate to a higher education cultural environment? If the institution priority is improved IT services, call out your experience in maximizing the customer experience. Have you led a strategic planning effort? Highlight experiences where you’ve provided leadership from both a technology and business perspective.  View the cover letter as the qualitative context for your application. Your resume provides the quantitative back up.

Questions to Consider

Does your cover letter augment your resume or replicate it? (opt for the former)

What three points do you want the evaluator to remember? Are these clearly stated with supporting data points?

And finally, review the position description and compare to your cover letter and resume. Does your application packet clearly illustrate why you are interested in shifting from your industry to higher education?

Questions about how to maximize your career portfolio for an executive position? Contact me at
[email protected].

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc