Chancellor’s leadership program, scholarship aims to develop great leaders
When Chancellor Susan Elrod announced that she was launching a Chancellor’s Leadership Program, Dorlita Blakley was intrigued. As one of the youngest and newest staff members in IT, she knew preparing for a leadership role was a good next step for her, especially as many long-time university tech employees will be eligible to retire soon.
“I knew that getting as much leadership training as I can would help,” the manager of web services said.
Chancellor Elrod began the program not only to offer a valuable leadership development opportunity for the participants, but to build leader capacity on campus. Its inaugural cohort of 15 faculty and staff met monthly during 2021 to learn about principles and practices of leadership, to create leader development plans for their own professional advancement, and to contribute their leadership to campus programs and initiatives. The program is centered on the reading and discussion of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (2009) by Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky.
“I hope to build a culture of invested, empowered leaders so that more people will see themselves as leaders and come together to move the institution forward,” Elrod said.
As part of the first cohort of the Chancellor’s Leadership Program participants, Blakely found lots of value in the work she and the cohort accomplished over the course of the year. One of her top takeaways was understanding the “view from the balcony,” a concept described in the book as moving away from the “dance floor,” where you might be focused on yourself and few others, to observing the scene from a broader perspective.
“This means being objective and viewing the various sides and the organization as a whole, not just from my role,” she said. “I also appreciated better understanding my authority and influence and how to use those in the best way to effect change.”
Elrod holds a long academic interest in leadership. Her recently published book Shared Leadership in Higher Education: A Framework and Models for Responding to a Changing World, also edited by Elizabeth M. Holcombe, Adrianna J. Kezar, and Judith A. Ramaley, is the latest result of decade-long scholarly work on higher education leadership.
She and Adrianna J. Kezar, a professor of leadership and higher education at the University of Southern California, started working together on STEM change and leadership in 2010, looking at how people put together interdisciplinary programs that cross departmental boundaries.
“From there it led us to think about institutional, systemic change and creating a process-based model that outlines the steps leaders could use to plan and implement an institutional change process,” she said. “Then we decided to explore leadership and how that plays a role in systemic change.”
Today, she thinks of herself as a leader-scholar. Her interest is in helping to define what successful leaders do and how they act in their leadership roles. The new book provides leaders with information about an approach they might take and offers several case examples that demonstrate several types of models of shared leadership across institutions of higher education.
“Many leadership books focus on the corporate management space, but not a lot deal with higher education, which is distinctive because of shared governance,” she said. “This book is filling that gap.”
The Chancellor’s Leadership Program is a practical application of her scholarly work, helping faculty and staff develop as leaders and contribute solutions or improvements to campus operations.
“I was excited by how the program was embraced and by the authentic contributions of the cohort members,” she said. “Faculty and staff got to know one another, bonded, and shared a lot of good ah-ha moments.”
In fact, some members of the cohort continue to meet and provide input to the Chancellor on current change efforts. Soon, the next cohort for the program will be announced and will get to work in the fall.
For her scholarship, Chancellor Elrod has received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue her work with Kezar, which is defining and operationalizing the actions leaders can take during the phases of systemic change to achieve successful and lasting results. It’s taken the form of a change leader “moves” (actions) planning tool. The tool describes eight categories of leader moves, such as establishing a vision, developing strategies and resources, navigating politics, fostering diversity, and preparing for success over the long-term. Each leader move category has 6-12 sub moves describing steps to consider. Planning tool resources and questions prompt leaders to reflect on the system they’re in, what they are trying to accomplish, or the level at which they’re working. The project team is currently in the process of vetting the tool with a variety of leaders, testing its effectiveness to develop a final version of the tool that is anticipated to be published in the fall.