Learning Leadership

At Butler, a Corporate Way to Manage Change and Groom New Leaders, an article in the August 1 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, made for a fascinating read, and not just because Butler University is a former client.

These are challenging times for the not for profit sector as we emerge from the Great Recession, especially for higher education, and the calls for new leadership approaches are myriad. I recommend the article for your purview as an example of one innovative way to address the issue.

The tremendous imbalance between the supply and demand for experienced and able development officers has exacerbated the leadership challenge for organizations which rely on philanthropy for a significant part of their budget.

All too often we have seen a successful young development officer turned into a management failure after being lured by a higher-paying position with leadership responsibilities. Sometimes it was a position at another institution or in other cases an internal promotion to retain her or him.

Regardless, the frequent result was the loss of a good young professional who left the development field demoralized over the experience.

Now, it is easy to blame the young development officer, arguing that she or he should never have accepted such a position without the skills to succeed. In my mind, however, the failure is at the fee of the person who made the decision to put the young person in that spot.

Sometimes the ‘sink or swim’ approach does work, but not often. Thus we owe it to the profession to provide young professionals who aspire to larger roles with training in leadership and management.

Where did you learn your leadership skills?

Reflecting on this, I realized that I had learned most of what I know about leadership under the tutelage of seven campus chief executives I served. Seeing how they handled things both day to day and in the face of challenges taught me a lot, including a few things not to do.

At Alexander Haas I have been privileged to work with more 50 Presidents or Chancellors and have learned a great deal from them.

One of the Presidents I served had been Provost at the University of Vermont, which used an unusual approach to develop leaders.

They kept a keen eye out for faculty members who showed promise in their work on committees or in the faculty senate and explored their interest in administration. Those that expressed an interest were groomed in a variety of ways including summer institutes and internships. Many went on to successful vice presidencies at Vermont and presidencies elsewhere.

So, as you look around for training opportunities for yourself or a young development officer, don’t forget the chance you have to learn from those leaders around you whom you admire.