On-Campus Leadership Development Programs: A Sampling of Approaches

Gailda Pitre Davis

There are probably as many models of on-campus leadership development programs as there are institutions. However, there are a few elements for these programs that have been identified as critical for success, such as opportunities to acquire new or hone preexisting leadership skills, mentoring, and exposure to senior administrative work. The following provides a brief description of the ways in which a few institutions and systems have implemented on-campus leadership development programs using these elements. Though these examples may provide models for other institutions, this sampling of approaches does not provide an exhaustive listing of the many possible strategies for implementing effective leadership programs on campuses. Institutional leaders are encouraged, nonetheless, to explore the websites for these programs to further their own thoughts and plans for leadership development at their own institutions.

Skills Development Programs

Some leadership development programs have a specific focus on skill development of faculty and administrators. Although many of these programs have multiple components to them, a key focus is on developing leadership skills within its participants. The following provides a few institutional examples of such skills development programs.

Kennesaw State University offers its EXCEL Leadership Program for faculty and staff to learn about various aspects of leadership in higher education. With its focus on addressing core leadership competencies, this program provides twenty faculty and staff participants the opportunity to engage in interactive classroom sessions, field trips, and social activities. During these activities, participants are able to deepen their knowledge of Kennesaw State's strategic goals, mission, and organizational structure as well as gain exposure to various leadership roles at the institution.

The University of California at Riverside offers the Management Skills Assessment Program (MSAP) to employees with the goal of enhancing skills and competencies needed for future opportunities at the institution. According to the MSAP website, the program is designed to "promote alignment between the program itself, institutional workforce needs, organizational direction and participants' aspirations…" The program provides opportunities for employees to assess their management skills, engage in discussions around the mission of the institution, enhance effectiveness in their current role, and become more competitive within the workforce.

Some skills development programs are designed for a particular subset of faculty or staff at an institution. For example, Stanford University's School of Medicine offers a Leadership Development Program which provides training to medical faculty participants on the skills needed to lead small teams or divisions in an academic medical center. Faculty participants in this program develop a team leadership project that is guided by a coach and aims to improve operations or programs in the school or hospital. Additionally, participants participate in six day-and-a-half long meetings during the year on various topics, such as finance, diversity, and leadership skills. During these meetings, participants not only acquire new knowledge and skills but also assess their leadership styles and explore opportunities for further development.

Mentoring Practices and Programs

Mentoring is commonly known as a critical component to effective leadership and professional development. Many institutions have programs and practices in place that support mentoring activities among faculty and staff. Although mentoring is often just one facet of larger programs, it can be an effective leadership development practice unto itself.

Arizona State University, for example, has outlined its Mentoring Practices through its Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost of the University. These practices range from the formal mentoring of junior faculty by senior faculty to the informal lunch and discussion meetings of junior faculty with deans. The mentoring opportunities provide junior faculty with career development advice, guidance through the tenure and promotion process, and a more thorough understanding of institutional policies, practices, and culture. They also provide opportunities for informal networking and learning for junior faculty.

Although institutions often implement mentoring programs on various levels (e.g., faculty with students, junior faculty with senior faculty, etc.), statewide associations also have mentoring programs that focus specifically on leadership development. One such program exists within the Association of California Community College Administrators' (ACCCA) Mentor Program. The stated purpose of the ACCCA Mentor Program is "to provide a personal and professional development experience for selected individuals who have demonstrated a potential for expanding leadership roles in their current, or future, responsibilities within the California Community College system." This program focuses on the development of competencies through participation in leadership events held over a one-year period. During this period, mentees and mentors meet four times in person, develop a learning contract for the mentee, and explore ways in which mentees can immediately apply newly acquired or enhanced leadership skills. The Mentor Program also creates a statewide network of participants, both mentees and mentors, which further fosters positive working relationships in the California Community College system.

The University of Washington, through their Professional and Organizational Development unit of Human Resources, offers a variety of training programs for administrators, managers, and supervisors. To enhance the benefits gained by participants in these programs, they also offer professional coaching. Coaches serve as "a resource, a sounding board, and a partner, but also…[provide] unbiased feedback…" to individuals, according to the institution's website. Although not exactly the same as mentoring in the traditional sense, professional coaching provides an individual with a similar one-on-one relationship with a focus on planning for the future, establishing career goals and plans to achieve them, identifying necessary skills for career advancement, and improving performance within a current role.

Fellowships as Exposure to Administration

One of the most comprehensive models for leadership development is through Fellowships. Fellowship programs often provide job shadowing opportunities, mentoring/career coaching, opportunities for self-assessment, and career planning to participants. This approach allows participants a focused opportunity to gain skills and exposure through concerted efforts often both on and off campuses. Traditionally, fellowships have denoted experiences through an organization or association, such as the ACE Fellows Program. However, increasingly institutions are offering opportunities for individuals to serve under the mentorship of a more senior administrator through formally established fellowship programs. These programs, which generally involve a competitive application process, vary in scope, participation level, and overall goals. Here are a few descriptions of fellowship programs offered at various institutions.

Some institutions offer fellowship programs for both faculty and staff. For example, Pennsylvania State University offers their Administrative Fellows Program (AFP) to faculty and staff interested in becoming more effective in their current positions as well as preparing for career advancement opportunities in the future. This one-year experience allows the fellows to develop a career-focused mentoring relationship with a senior administrator and broaden their experiences in higher education administration. The fellow and mentor work together to design an experience that provides the fellow with a good understanding of the work of the mentor, including his or her responsibilities. All fellows and mentors also work through a common core of experiences, which include attending meetings of the Board of Trustees, visiting other Penn State campuses, and meetings with the president and provost. A key goal of these common core experiences is to expose fellows to the problem-solving and decision-making processes of the institution.

Other institutions may focus particularly on either faculty or staff for such programming. For example, Illinois State University provides an Administrative Fellows Program specifically for tenured faculty within the College of Arts and Sciences. The selected faculty member receives a one-course release for a semester to serves as Special Assistant to the Dean and gains specialized training in academic administrative practices as well as mentoring from the Dean of the College. The selected faculty member is exposed to the details of academic administration through work with the Dean and staff of the Dean’s office on special projects and assignments. Although this program is only available to one faculty member a semester and offered on an occasional basis, it provides a good example for a program designed to increase faculty interest in and understanding of administrative work in an academic setting.

A more wide-reaching approach to this same model of leadership development for faculty specifically can be seen at The University of Kansas (KU) in their Senior Administrative Fellows Program. This program, which is coordinated through the Office of the Provost, allows four to five tenured faculty members who are interested in or display a talent for administration to work as a cohort in exploring the fundamental aspects of administration at KU. Although this program offers no release time for faculty, it requires a commitment of just four hours per month during which the faculty participants engage with senior administrators at KU to explore the nature of their work, enhance their knowledge on major units at the institution, and discuss issues of leadership and hot topics in higher education. Although different in nature and scope from the Illinois State University model, KU's program still provides a substantive experience and increased exposure to faculty with administrative leadership capabilities.

Focusing on underrepresented populations in senior administration and faculty is yet another approach for fellowship programs. Such a model can be seen in the Tennessee Board of Regents' Maxine Smith Fellows Program. This program is designed to increase diversity in administration by preparing African American employees for advanced administrative experiences. One of its stated objectives is to "increase the number of qualified applicants from underrepresented groups for senior level administrative positions at [Tennessee Board of Regents] institutions." It also provides opportunities for fellows to observe and participate in decision-making processes and to experience policy-making at the institutional and governing board levels. Additionally, fellows complete a compilation project which reports on research conducted during the fellowship year—research that is related to an issue in higher education that has relevance for the Tennessee Board of Regents system or one of its institutions.

Though many in higher education have not fully embraced the notion of succession planning, Emory University presents it as a stated goal for its Excellence through Leadership program. Each year up to fifteen individuals who hold the title of director or higher at Emory and show great promise for career advancement are selected to participate in this year-long program with a focus on "strengthening leadership performance" at Emory and on creating a "leadership pipeline for succession planning." Participants represent a cross-section of the university and engage in a curriculum that is prepared through collaboration between Emory’s office of Human Resources and the Goizueta School of Business. This curriculum includes an exploration of general and individual leadership styles, core leadership competencies, administrative skill development, and exposure to senior administrators at Emory.


On-campus leadership development programs can take a variety of forms and have just as much variation in stated goals, participants, and scope. It is generally recognized that participation in leadership development programs does not necessarily mean that one will be promoted at one's current institution. However, it is important to note that participation in such programs often carries a number of other personal and professional benefits, such as increased performance and work satisfaction within one's current role, the establishment of a network or support system of colleagues, and ultimately the increase of a pool of diverse and trained potential leaders for higher education. This sampling provides just a snapshot of promising practices in the area of on-campus leadership development at institutions nationwide. It is believed, however, that these programs provide a good overview of the general landscape with the overarching hope of encouraging even more institutions to explore the ways in which they too can grow leaders both for their institution as well as for the field of higher education.