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

January 7, 2020
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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 http://www.sadlouskos.com.

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