We are experiencing one of the most challenging higher education environments ever.  Financial and enrollment pressures have many institutions scrambling to survive.  Are you a University or College leader faced with the daunting task of transforming your struggling university and college back into a thriving institution?

It seems that almost every higher education leader I’ve talked to in the last couple of years finds themselves facing a “turnaround” situation.  They report that they are finding themselves making the toughest decisions in their careers.  Putting the needs of their institution and their students first, they are eliminating academic programs, eliminating long time administrative leaders and staff, and cutting budgets.  As a result, they share a feeling of losing sight of who they are and their values–something I personally experienced when faced with similar circumstances as a University leader.  Do you feel your sense of self eroding as you make these tough decisions?  If so, here are some recommendations to consider:

  • Stay centered – Hopefully you have a regular activity that keeps you centered. For some it may be exercise, others it may be meditation or a quiet walk. When we get stressed we don’t think straight and we become off-center. Maintain those daily practices that keep you centered.
  • Listen – As leaders we must listen carefully to our constituents. We cannot make decisions in isolation. As we are confronted with big issues it is imperative to seek input from a cross-section of stakeholders. This does not need to be formal; it may be casual conversations over coffee or while walking around campus.
  • Engage – Collaborative leadership requires engagement and intentional connection with faculty and staff.. If possible don’t withdraw when things get tough. Stay engaged with your fellow colleagues and your stakeholders. Develop group processes where you can garner input and possible group problem solving. Different perspectives make for stronger solutions.
  • Reflect – In our busy world one of the last things we do is reflect. I encourage you to journal or simply step off the treadmill of life and reflect on you as a leader and what impact you and your decisions have on others. How do your actions reflect your values and passions? If you are off track, don’t beat yourself up. Rather, identify ways to course correct and begin working on those immediately. Continue to reflect and learn on a regular basis.

Reflection: What difficult actions have you taken recently? What was the outcome? How did you feel about the action and the outcome? Were you true to your authentic self?