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Getting There: Developing an Institutional Plan

December 30, 1899


​It is not easy to change the way we do things; it is especially difficult to institutionalize change. Institutionalizing a commitment to fostering leadership poses a particular problem because everyone—and therefore no one—is responsible. Leadership development usually has no organizational home. Some institutions have human resources departments, which may be concerned with professional development; frequently their target group is administrative personnel. On the administrative side of campus, the vice president and deans are responsible for their own development and for that of their staffs, while chairs oversee faculty development. Such decentralization can promote responsive decision making, but the price is a lack of either coordination or an overarching game plan.

Strategies for Success

Any institutional leadership initiative, whether it concerns developing a strategic plan, recruiting students and faculty of color, or incorporating leadership development into the institutional agenda, will be guided by some basic principles. The following strategies can help leadership development become an ongoing institutional concern rather than an uneven and marginal undertaking.

Inventory current practices

If administrators are asked how their institution implements leadership development, they often will point to a series of unrelated indicators (e.g., the number of in-house programs offered, the number of people sent to national institutes) and opportunities (e.g., a program offered for department chairs, a faculty internship program, occasional sabbaticals for administrators). Compiling this information at the school or institutional level is an essential first step in determining whether there is any correlation among various opportunities and plans and whether there is any connection between institutional goals and individual development opportunities.

Incorporate leadership development into institutional planning and decision making.

Because leadership development is seen as peripheral to institutional goals, it is not surprising that it is not integrated into institutional planning. Integration requires weaving new questions into the process, such as:

  • What human resources will be required to implement the plan?
  • Do we currently have these resources?
  • Will we have them in one, two, or five years?
  • If not, are there persons already at the institution who can play a role in implementing the plan?
  • What training and additional work experiences will they need?
Develop a comprehensive plan.

In many institutions, leadership development takes place haphazardly. Because decision making is generally decentralized, so are leadership development efforts. One person may ask to be sent to a national workshop; another may decide to sign up for a program offered on campus. Some deans will see a need to provide training for department chairs; others will not. Although the structure and tradition of many institutions may not welcome centralized decision making regarding leadership development, it is important to have an explicit institutional philosophy and a plan that is articulated by the president and senior officers. Department or unit plans should include goals for faculty and staff development, as well as strategies and funds to support these goals.

Match institutional needs with individual needs, to the extent possible.

Organizations are untidy, and perfect synchronization between institutional and individual needs is not always possible. A good plan will assess the institution's needs and compare them with the available talent and potential, as well as the developmental needs of faculty and staff. Administrators should consider the following questions: Is the faculty and highly tenured and getting older? What are the implications of projected turnover for faculty leadership? Is a capital campaign in the winds? If so, what is the current staffing situation in the development office? Are there junior staff who could be prepared for greater responsibility?

Exercise leadership from the top. 

Mobilizing a campus to overcome its natural inertia is a task central to leadership. If leadership development is to be an explicit institutional commitment, it should be practiced at the highest levels and encouraged throughout the institution. Boards and presidents must pay attention to their own effectiveness and vitality, and develop strategies for ensuring that others have opportunities to improve their skills and obtain new ideas and perspectives. If the president's and vice president's efforts (such as taking time for scholarship or attending off-campus programs) are seen as legitimate and important for the institution, the tone will be set for others to be equally serious and deliberate. On the other hand, if institutional leaders communicate the notion that professional development is a nuisance or a waste of time and resources, any efforts in that direction will be seriously hampered.

Ensure grassroots involvement in leadership. 

Although setting the tone and establishing priorities may occur at the top of the academic chain, various units are responsible for implementation. Leadership development efforts must be suited to the needs of the participants. The more an activity is "owned" by those participating in it, the greater its likelihood of success.

Demonstrate the benefits of leadership development.

If leadership development initiatives are not beneficial to the institution or its members, or if the costs clearly outweigh the benefits, then there is no incentive to put them on anyone's agenda. If leaders are to change the way they view leadership development, they will do so out of a combination of enlightened self-interest and a belief in the potential benefits to the institution as a whole.

Make it positive, not punitive. 

Leadership development should be viewed as a way to improve effectiveness and increase job satisfaction, not as remediation. Campus leaders should create a positive climate for leadership development with enthusiastic endorsement from the top.


Develop appropriate goals and workable structures.


Any new direction or undertaking, including leadership development, must be consonant with an institution's history, values, and culture. Sometimes, institutions are not successful in addressing a new issue or problem because the structure they develop is wrong for the campus, or the approach they take is at odds with campus culture. For example, at some institutions, forming a broad-based committee on faculty and staff development might not work. Developing consensus and moving ahead may be too cumbersome, especially in a decentralized institution. Some institutions will find it preferable to create new structures, such as a committee or task force; others will want to use existing mechanisms.

Allocate sufficient resources. 

Some strategies that institutions can develop will cost money while others will not. Leadership development will have to compete with other priorities in the short term, but it is an investment that will assist in reaching other institutional goals.

Set explicit goals and hold people accountable. 

As with any other element of planning, individual units should determine their specific objectives in concert with broader school-wide or institutional goals. The unit's progress in facilitating staff development should be a criterion for assessing supervisors' performances. Evaluation can ensure that plans are implemented and revised as necessary.

Provide incentives. 

People need incentives to behave differently. If the status quo is comfortable, why change? If supervisors are rewarded for encouraging the development of others, they will be more likely to do so. Rewards might take the form of a positive note in a performance evaluation, public recognition, or the allocation of additional resources to further leadership development efforts. Similarly, individuals who are growing and improving can be rewarded with merit pay, additional development opportunities, and job enrichment or promotion.

Evaluate institutional efforts. 

Institutions should employ multiple evaluations of efforts by participants and supervisors. Available leadership development activities (in-house programs, national institutes and programs, sabbaticals) should be assessed to determine which are more effective and which are most cost-effective.

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