Where you lead, I will follow. #HigherEdLeadership

There are many talented and dedicated people working on campuses these days. Yet, in front of your laptop or while swiping on your phone, you might get a different impression. There is scrutiny on higher ed in particular, and often the emphasis is on the failures or inadequacies of individuals and groups on our campuses.

When I’m away from my devices, I am face to face with warm and engaged leaders who make higher education better. They inspire me. They talk about the ways in which education transformed their own lives. They recall students, by name, sharing their fascinating stories with detail. These leaders are working hard every day on creative and visionary solutions to chore challenges at their institutions.

For me, leadership and strategy go together. If you’ve heard me speak during a conference or webinar, or you’ve read my blog, you already know a few of my own catch phrases about strategic leadership. Here I pair up some of my thoughts with those of higher ed leaders who inspire me.

Strategy is difficult, it takes time, it involves risk, and it requires decisions. But there is a huge pay off.

A college president I interviewed recently said it better when she recalled the advice she got from her earliest mentor: “Write down everything that’s important and then put it all in priority order. And, by the way, all the items on the list can’t be priority number one.”

Without a strategy to guide your choices, everything you do (or are asked to do) seems like a reasonable option.

On HigherEdLive, Rebecca Bernstein, director of digital communications strategy at University at Buffalo, said it succinctly, “Everything I do is something I don’t do.” If you haven’t watched her appearance on HigherEdLive — “The Homepage is Dead; Long Live the Homepage?” — you should. You must. Please do.

Marketing and communication plans are easy to create when you don’t have to pay attention to the facts.

mStoner’s, Greg Zguta says, “Not everything can be measured. And not everything that can be measured is worth measuring.” The stakes are too high; we must evaluate the individual tactics in our marketing plans. Planning + execution + measurement.
Is strategy a buzz word? Not in my book.

Strategy is for thinking about, and planning for, the future.

 

This post was originally published on January 31, 2015. I have updated it for accuracy.

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What about you and the leaders you meet?

The fact is, when you have a job, you are going to run into bad leaders. Why? Because leadership is difficult. Even for those with natural leadership ability, it is not easy. As the saying goes, “People quit their bosses, not their jobs.”

In earlier posts, I wrote about two extremes of leadership: the good and the bad. This post is about you and what you do with the leaders you meet: 1) Be reasonable in your own expectations; but 2) Remove yourself from a bad situation when you can.

Don’t expect your boss to be able to do your job.
Often, people have the belief that, in order to supervise a [occupation here], you have to have worked in the trenches as a [same occupation here]. It’s a mistake to think the leader must be able to do your job before earning your full respect. The right kind of leader — and I hope we are all trying to be that kind — can lead individuals in all types of jobs. I can name several web programmers who would serve as references for my leadership, and, to this day, I don’t know javascript or PHP. Leadership is not about performing the specific job duties of individuals on the team you lead. We all need bosses who lead, not people who would know how to do our jobs when we take a day off.

Don’t expect every good idea you share to be acted upon.
A leader is listening to you even if she chooses not to act on your idea. If your leader doesn’t follow through on a suggestion you make, it doesn’t mean you weren’t heard. When you’re the leader, people regularly come to you with advice about the problems you face. From the outside, it probably appears easy to solve a particular problem. Give your leader the benefit of the doubt! Assume there is information, detail, or context you don’t have about a situation. Given full information, your easy-to-implement solution might not be the right one. By the way, the worst thing you can do is stop expressing your ideas. I have watched people do this as a way to get back at the leader for not accepting an idea or two. It is your job to have good ideas, to share them with the leader, and to realize what you have to say is not the be all to end all in every circumstance.

It’s not you, it’s them.
I am keenly aware that bad leadership is a serious problem — it can ruin careers we love and organizations we are otherwise passionate about. I’ve worked for my share of bad bosses and I don’t minimize the effects on us as individuals. At the risk of sounding trite, I suggest staying true to yourself when faced with a bad leader. Draw from internal motivation but don’t internalize the negatives from your situation. And, when you are able, you should change jobs.

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Do you know a good leader when you see one?

My earlier post identified leadership as the good, the bad, and you. I wrote about six behaviors typical of bad leaders. While the opposite of my six observations of the bad are a place to start, there will be no getting off easy for me. Here are my top six qualities of good leaders.

You work hard to build trust and earn respect.

Sure, your team will trust you at the start, and your leadership role comes with some built-in respect. But strong leaders work continuously to prove themselves. At the beginning, in the middle, and throughout, your actions are your leadership. When a person you work with shares a confidence, you keep it. When a complaint comes in about someone on your team, you reserve judgment and talk directly to the person involved to learn more. You say what you mean, and you mean what you say. Yes, it’s just that simple.

You are who you are.
You should learn from, and be inspired by, the leaders you’ve observed. You should also be who you are because the strongest leaders are authentic and true to self. Take a tip from Judy Garland, “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

You hire people who aren’t you.
Leaders build teams. When you hire someone new, avoid the stereotype; don’t hire people exactly like you. Instead, hire individuals that bring new points of view and different work styles. Your team can better respond to current challenges and more successfully evolve to meet what will come in the future when you have a powerful mosaic of perspectives and styles.

Your modify your approach as needed.

You are leading individuals. What works with one may not work at all with someone else. Getting to success will require you to modify your approach based on what you understand about the motivations of different types of people.

You roll up your sleeves and work shoulder to shoulder.

In the middle of the challenging times, you are in the mix with your team. During a crisis or when a lot of hard work is needed, you are visible and participating in whatever needs to be done.

You keep in mind that people are counting on you.
In a leadership role, you have more ability to influence the future and you know your job is to evaluate risks and identify opportunities. You are responsible for positioning your team to do important work that has value to your organization. After all, the individuals you lead are counting on you to protect their future livelihoods.

You celebrate successes!

Strong leaders understand the long-distance race and the mileposts along the way. You think long term, and you intentionally pause to call attention to goals achieved. Cheers and shared rewards for great work lead to team solidarity.

In my third post about leadership: we’ll talk about you, and your approach with the good and bad leaders in your life.

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Leadership: The good, the bad, and you.

For simplicity’s sake, we can boil leadership down to: the good, the bad, and you.

This is the first of three posts to cover all three. When the topic of leadership comes up, most people think first about “bad bosses” — they skip right over the good, to the bad. So here goes, I’ll use this first post to explore bad leadership.

Really, is there anything left to write about bad leadership? I’ve been known to say that every problem within an organization can be tied back to a lack of leadership. Bad leaders, I’m talking to you about six behaviors that don’t serve you well.

You don’t listen.

When you interrupt, you might shut off information key to your decision making and you potentially discourage someone from coming back to inform you in the future. If you aren’t listening to your team, they can’t ask get the answers for directing and improving their daily work. While listening, you should ask questions to clarify or learn more. No questions might send the message you aren’t listening.

You don’t understand your own success depends on the quality of your team.

A leader leads people, not a department or unit. People are the secret sauce for completing projects that accomplish your goals, support your vision, and frankly, make you look good. The ability of your team to do high-quality work depends on your leadership.

You use phrases like “my employees” or “the people who work for me.”

Your collective team is made up of individuals with unique skills and talents you need to develop. Remember, different people require different leadership styles. If you think of them as employees who work for you, you aren’t building a team; you won’t have their loyalty and the good ones won’t stay.

You don’t say thank you.

You point out the negative and are silent about the positive. This is not the right approach: in fact, the no news is good news mantra for leading people was never right. Individuals you work with need to know you appreciate and value their contributions. Saying thank you is the out loud way to be sure they know you are grateful for their work. Really, how hard is it to do?

You aren’t honest about feedback.

At the end of the day, people want to know where they stand. If you’re unable or unwilling to look someone in the eye and share honest feedback, you are unfair and a bad leader. When you accept a leadership role, you take on responsibility for helping people improve and the only way to do that is by confronting them directly about what they need to do differently.

You act like a manager.

You think about the org chart, the non-people parts—the process, policy, scope, and tasks. When you act like manager, you are less focused on goals. Tied to the here and now, you are likely to protect turf, invest in the status quo, and reduce risk. To be innovative, people need vision and inspiration. If you manage, you must also lead.

In my next post: The Good Leaders

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Web Governance: How do you get the right kind of feedback from your advisory committee?

One element typical of web governance frameworks in higher ed is a website advisory committee. If you are a digital professional on a campus, you may be facing challenges from a committee that is unwieldy, slow to act, or focused on the lengthy discussions needed to get to consensus decision making. Getting timely and useful feedback from an advisory committee isn’t easy. Here are some suggestions:

Create a structure for providing useful feedback.

A committee of non-experts might need direction on how to provide useful feedback. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that, absent a structured process, individuals will default to watered-down responses that don’t get you what you need. To structure the process:

  • Provide context. Present background and detail to fully explain what you recommend.
  • Allow a set amount of time for discussion and perhaps allow your committee time between meetings to process.
  • Consider getting feedback from individuals after holding a committee meeting for group discussion.

Make it a no-brainer.

Whenever you can, ask for feedback on ideas and recommendations grounded in research. Use best practice, benchmarking, and testing to inform what you present to your committee. The less the committee has to connect the dots, the more successful you’re likely to be.

Ask the right questions.

The way you phrase your questions during feedback discussions can make a difference:

  • Avoid open-ended questions like, “What do you think of this design?” or “Which message platform do you like the most?”
  • Instead, use more focused questions like, “How well does this copy explain the strength and uniqueness of our academic programs?” or “How well does this design communicate that our college offers high quality academics and a range of opportunities for students?”

Be sure you’re clear about your committee’s role in making decisions.

I think the feedback loop is endless because we aren’t clear about when a decision is required from the committee. If yours is an “advisory” committee, you don’t need a decision; get the best feedback you can, and move on. If decisions are made by the committee, structure your meeting agendas to indicate which meetings are for update and discussion and which are for a final decision. Also:

  • Make it clear you will sometimes need to decide even when all committee members aren’t present.
  • Take a vote. Sometimes, consensus takes too long and you need to force a decision.

Identify a release valve.

If you’re leading a website advisory committee, make sure you have an executive sponsor. If you’ve done the best you can, but the committee is stuck and needs to get back on track, ask your executive sponsor for cover. Avoid asking for help making the decision; just make sure your decision is in sync with the leadership team that charged you to lead the committee.

Do you need a website advisory committee?

Who owns your website? A simple question that prompts many more: Who sets your editorial direction? Who controls access to your CMS? Who do you go to when you need a microsite? Who decides what goes on your homepage?

The best website governance models answer these questions by offering the right balance of oversight and support. Campuses need processes and policies for effective and sustainable website management. And individuals who write, produce, and edit site content need training and tools.

Website governance is a blueprint — an intentional, specific plan for who does what, when, and how. Be aware: figuring out the plan is only the first part of website governance. No model, framework, or structure will substitute for the ongoing communication between the people involved in your website.

Often, discussions about governance start this way, “Okay, I know I need governance but do I need a website advisory committee?

Three reasons you might:

  1. Your website is currently wild and woolly. After years of everyone doing their own thing, it’s time to relaunch your site and put a structure in place to keep it fresh, vibrant, and sustainable.
  2. You want to take your already solid website to the next level. You know the site is critical for recruiting students, raising money, and enhancing reputation. Maybe you have no budget for creating new positions, so you need a decentralized way to manage your site. You need to gain support for distributing website tasks to people in different units across campus.
  3. You have a website governance plan…that no one follows. The people you designated to update your site are busy with other tasks and responsibilities, and your website is their lowest priority.

Two reasons you might not:

  1. Your campus has a mature and talented communications operation and website relaunches are a thing of the past. People across campus understand that you have authority for your site, you are regularly updating your content, and you have a team of highly skilled people enhancing your site daily.
  2. You’ve just completed a highly successful website redesign project on your campus. The redesign team wrote policies, set up a training and support plan, and have gotten website editors across campus into a good groove.

Let’s suppose you decide you need a website advisory committee…then what?

Considerations when planning for a website advisory committee:

What is the charge of the committee?
The charge, or charter, is the purpose of the committee — it outlines what they do, and what they don’t do. You also will need to determine if the committee is truly advisory or actually the final authority for decisions about the website. The website advisory committee could:

  • Review and enforce the website governance plan.
  • Reinforce with deans and directors the importance of web page management as an official responsibility and high priority for staff in their respective units.
  • Provide feedback about enhancements and changes to your website and related digital communication initiatives.
  • Recommend the allocation of shared resources for future projects and enhancements.
  • Consult on policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines related to the website.

How large is the ideal committee?
Keep it as small as you can get away with. Avoid the typical Noah’s ark, two-by-two approach where every division has to send one representative. Large committees are typically not successful: they create more scheduling difficulties (nightmares!), require more time for getting feedback, and are more likely to resort to consensus-based decision- making. Committees get large because we view them as the only way to offer feedback and suggestions. If your governance plan includes other feedback options, you’ll be able to control the size of your website advisory committee.

Governance matters. Along with vision and staffing, it is how the sustainability of your website actually happens.

More on governance:

OH in Higher Ed Circles: 6 things that drive us mad (and a new webinar!)

Picture this: Six people working on six different campuses are seated around a round table having lunch at a higher ed conference. Before the salad course ends, they’ve figured out how much they have in common. All are facing similar challenges — and more relevant to this blog post — all regularly experience the same frustrations.

Next imagine this: 600 people working on 600 different campuses are members of a circle in Google+. These folks are sometimes even more direct as they selectively share their frustrations and the barriers to high-quality marketing and communications programs on their campuses. It’s been know to happen.

Regardless of their institutional affiliation, when marketing and communications professionals gather they bond over similar concerns. And, when I consult with community colleges, multi-campus publics, music conservatories, or small liberal arts colleges, I observe a similar chorus. Six themes overheard in higher ed are:

  1. Committees
    Often viewed as the bane of the higher ed administrator’s existence, committees are unwieldy, slow to act, and sometimes set up to avoid a decision. Even when called by another name (task force), they present challenges; you must find ways to use them well.
  2. Feedback
    It’s exhausting when you are caught in a seemingly unending feedback loop while staring down a deadline. Worse, you find yourself responding to the personal preferences of internal stakeholders at the expense of the target audience. You need to control the fire hose.
  3. Resources
    Another week, another new task or set of expectations. Our teams regularly take on new initiatives and responsibilities but rarely stop doing the less valuable work we’ve always done. You need to make it stop.
  4. Change
    We’re pretty good at digging in within the academy. But some amount of change is needed for almost any great idea. Take off your blinders, stop pushing past the resistance, and instead use personal benefits to influence stakeholders.
  5. Turf
    Using softer language, we refer to silos when we’re really talking about turf. Regardless, we’re not farmers and we need to turn things toward a focus on business needs and the greater institutional good.
  6. Relationships
    Perhaps a surprising addition to this list, relationship building should always be a factor. Regular reflection about the approach and style you use with peers, members of your team, senior leaders, and your boss is never a waste of time.

Perhaps this post is spot on with its summary of concerns you have. Next up, let’s address those concerns. I’ll try to do just that on Thursday, March 27, at 2:00 PM ET, when I host a free webinar entitled, “OH in Higher Ed Circles: 6 things that drive us mad.” Talking through each of the six things that probably bug you every week, I’ll share tips, ideas, and advice for making your way around the barriers to excellent marketing and communications work on your campus. I hope you’ll join me for this free mStoner webinar as we discuss ways to cope and succeed!