Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Does Accreditation add Value & Bring Accountability?

Our institution is presently finishing the assurance argument portfolio for our accrediting body.  They will in turn visit our campus to affirm the report early next year.  We have involved a large number of employees in providing examples of how our institution meets the accreditation criteria.  Through compiling examples and writing assurance statements clarity came. 

Accreditation has been a part of higher education for much longer than I have been working in the sector.  Over the past decade the nature of accreditation has changed as people have clamored for more accountability from institutions of higher education.  Elected officials, the general public, current and former students have questioned practices of higher education institutions.  The news is replete with headlines about higher education; headlines that are not necessarily positive.  Further, high stakes college sports have added their own negative headlines to the growing cacophony of concerns. 

I frequently talk to the team of administrative leaders at my college about doing the right thing, for the right reason, the right way at the right time.  We debate and challenge each other when problems arrive as we work to find solutions – solutions that are best for students and the institution.  We have all witnessed times when colleagues at other institutions try to game the system.  For example, in a previous state with performance funding that only funded students by course if the student passed the course, a chief academic officer said, “I told my faculty to only give Ds, after all we are only getting paid for the work we did.”  I was stunned. Another institution created a certificate program in “Folk Art” and drove up the number certificate awards in one year, receiving a larger portion of state allocation because of their improvement in award production.  I concede that award production did indeed improve.  However, I had to ask myself, “a certificate to what end?”  Folk Art was certainly important to their region and even the people who earned the certificate after studying courses in the certificate.  However, many of us had to ask whether or not creating more and more certificates in order to get a higher share of state funding added value or served the business community that we purported to serve.

Enter peer review through accreditation and back to my moment of clarity.  As I review the assurance arguments and evidence my institution is compiling for submission, it became clearly to me where we are strong and where we have opportunities to better serve our students, community and stakeholders.  The process of accreditation brings light upon activities at the institution.  Peer reviewers who read our accreditation documents and visit campus to affirm our evidence write publically available reports that make visible to all who want to see, how an institution is performing. 

So what, you ask?  Can’t institutions ignore these recommendations and continue to do the same old thing?  Actually, the answer is both yes and no.  They can ignore the recommendations for a period of time before the accrediting body finally denies accreditation.  The lack of accreditation results in consequences that for all practical purposes prevent the institution to continue to operate.  The consequences include the loss of the ability to provide federal financial aid to students.    It is very hard to attract students without the ability to provide federal financial aid.  Certainly, it is not impossible, after all Hillsdale College in Michigan chooses not to offer federal financial aid or accept federal assistance.  But this business model was a commitment early on in the institution’s history and would be difficult to adopt on the fly. 

Still, I believe that leaders at the top of the organization must also bring about accountability.  They should not wait until an accreditation process forces them to “do the right thing”.  In my opinion accreditation does add value far beyond allowing our institution to offer financial aid, but I also believe leaders need to be committed to doing the right thing.  Now – lets debate “the right thing”. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Are We Witnessing the Death of General Education?

The state of New Mexico is undergoing a conversation about the nature of general education. Recently the Secretary of Higher Education has invited stakeholders to weigh in on a general education proposal developed by a state-wide committee.  The state-wide committee reduced the number of required credits from 36 credit hours to 31 credit hours with the idea that each institution would have flexibility to include first year experience courses, or interdisciplinary courses that emphasis an institutional held value or perspective.  Additionally, the state-wide committee emphasized the inclusion of essential skills that need to be embedded within the general eduction courses.

On the surface these principles seem like common sense, and they may be.  However, the heart and soul of the conversation will be about the details of general education.  As knowledge has expanded, faculty debate what subjects or disciplines should be included.  How many credits should be devoted to the Arts and Humanities?  How many should be devoted to Mathematics and/or Science?  Should Rhetoric and Speech Communication be included as separate options or should those skills be imbedded within broader disciplines?  In the end the final product will be based on a series of compromises.  I suspect the debate will not end when the final product is finally approved and adopted.

As this debate has progressed in New Mexico, I find myself asking the following question.  In the knowledge economy is there a base level of knowledge all people need to have?  If so, what knowledge should be mastered at each level of the education sector?  If the minimum level of expected education is a high school diploma, then what is the knowledge each high school graduate needs in order to move into post-secondary education or into training for work?

As I contemplate general education, the knowledge economy, the growing diversity of society and work I am beginning to question whether or not there is a notion of general education or whether or not there needs to be a series of several "general education" paths. If someone knows they are going to post-secondary education after high school do they need a different general education than someone who knows they are going to train for a particular career?  If someone is going to train for a particular career is there a different type of general education for a police officer than a nurse than an aerospace technician?

It is on this point that I appreciate the approach New Mexico is taking to general education. Allowing individuals an opportunity for choice within broader discipline categories with an emphasis on essential skills has the potential to address the differing needs of individuals pursuing the wide range of jobs and careers that exist in the world economy.  As I look forward to the debate over the details of general education in New Mexico, I hope that the final product keeps in place the emphasis on skills and flexibility.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review: The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons from Colin Powell

The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons from Colin Powell, the Legendary Leader was written by Oren Harari in 2003 and published through McGraw-Hill.  Oren Harari claims that the 24 lessons contained in the book are “lessons in leadership” that “Powell has practiced throughout his career”.   According to Amazon, Oren Harari is a professor of management at the McLaren Graduate School of Business at the University of San Francisco.  He has written two other books that include lessons based on studying CEO Jack Welch and football coach Vince Lombardi.

Oren Harari claims that the 24 leadership principles contained in the book are based upon studying Colin Powell and his philosophy and practices of leadership that include metal maps, decision making habits, and “other behaviors that characterize effective leadership”.   The book does not provide a time frame when Harari studied Colin Powell or whether or not Colin Powell would affirm the lessons presented. 

These principles are presented in short chapters that can be read in five or ten minutes.  The content of the chapters invite contemplation and thought.  Each chapter begins with a short context followed by an explanation of the principle.  The author follows the explanation with two or three suggestions in the form of a statement or question.  The chapters end with a quote from Colin Powell that illustrates the principle. The simplicity of the chapter is not representative of the depth of the principle being presented.  Consequently while reading the chapter is relatively short; contemplation of the principle requires more time.  

What is missing is an illustration or example of the practical application of the leadership lesson.  This can be considered both a strength and weakness.  The inclusion of an application may dampen ones contemplation of the principles.  On the other hand, the lack of an illustration may lead the reader to contemplate the application of the principle in more robust ways. 

For someone looking for a book to prompt reflection about his or her leadership style and beliefs, The Powell Principles will satisfy that need.  The book is appropriate for individuals who are already in leadership positions as they can draw on their experiences when considering the appropriateness or application of the leadership principles.  For individuals new to leadership the book can provide a framework from which to develop a personal philosophy about leadership. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Be A Cheerleader

Do you remember all those times your parents coached you about saying "please" and "thank you"?  I remember many times when my parents not only coached me about saying thank you, but also reminded me to write thank you letters.  Little did I realize that such a simple lesson from childhood would be a vital leadership principle.

This leadership principle is related to the last principle of "being visible".  Opportunities to be out and about on campus do provide me with a perspective about what is going right on campus.  It also provides me an opportunity to thank people for the good work they are doing.  By learning about the things that are going well on campus I am able to not only say thank you, but also to share with the campus community about the things going right on campus.

One habit I have developed is sending out a communication each Monday morning during the traditional fall and spring semesters.  These communication occur less frequently in the summer and on vacation, but the habit of talking about the week ahead each Monday has become important to me. I use this weekly communication to highlight things on campus or in the state that people should be aware of as it may effect the college at some point in time.  I also use this communication to share the good news that I learn about during the previous week.

Sharing the good news also me to be a cheerleader for the college.  I do this when I'm out in the community working with stakeholders, businesses, alumni, and friends of the college.  When I'm in the community I'm sharing the message that we are good community partners and that people are getting a good return on their investment in higher education.

When I share the good news internally, it provides an opportunity for others at the college to recognize the good work of their fellow colleagues.  It also provides employees with information for their personal narrative about the college.  By reminding colleagues that there is good work happening on campus, I am creating an opportunity for employees to choose what they want to focus on.  In the absence of good news, the only news an employee has to focus on may be the negative news from colleagues.

Why do I think colleagues share the negative?  Have you heard of the old adage that people share a bad experience with many friends while they share a positive experience with virtually no one?  That adage holds true of employees as well.  Employees tend to talk about their negative experiences at work more frequently than the positive.  Sometimes, like the news media, only the negative is worth talking about.  I'm not saying that employees shouldn't talk about the negative.  What I am saying is that I believe a leader is able to share both the good news and the bad news.

Focusing upon only the  good news or only the bad news provides a less than realistic view of what is happening at the organization.  Consequently, I think it is important to highlight the good news whenever possible.  A balanced view will give employees the freedom to trust both the good and bad news that you must share as a leader.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Be Visible

The last post talked about "walking the talk" or being the role model.  This principle supports that principle.  You can only be a role model if you are visible.  Being visible also allows you to see and listen.  The more you take opportunities to check in with people in your organization the sooner they will realize that you are just checking in not checking on them.

I enjoy the opportunities I get to walk around.  I wish I could have more opportunities.  Checking in with people gives them an opportunity to share with me something that is important to them or something they are proud of.  When I enter their space, I'm a guest.  It seems to me that they gain confidence when I'm in their space.  This allows them to take the lead and talk about things they are comfortable with and knowledgeable about.

Being visible also allows employees to get to know you on an more informal basis.  Meeting times are generally focused and structured.  When you walk up to someone and ask a question the setting is generally more informal.  The more often one does this the sooner employees learn that you are approachable and that you are interested in them as people.

Being visible also provides me an opportunity to celebrate the things that are going right in the organization.  So often my day is focused upon problem solving and I have little opportunities to hear about all the good things that are happening in the organization.  By getting away from the office and meetings, I am able to hear from people who are focused on the key responsibilities of the organization.  Generally, things are going right (or I would have heard about it already).  Walking around helps me realize that there is far more going right in the organization than going wrong.

Being visible is mutually beneficial.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Be Professional and Expect Professionalism

A mentor of mind once told me, "Don't expect from someone else what you don't expect from yourself."  I thought that was good advice.  I remember telling this same advice to the captains on the basketball and softball teams I would coach.  I would meet with the players who were selected captain and share with them my expectations.  My expectations for them were similar to the other players.  Be early, work hard, work hard every minute of practice, play every play hard, be a good sport, and most importantly be a good student.  I would also tell the captains that everyone is looking at you so you can't take any minute off.

This is similar for leaders.  If I expect our employees to deliver good service to guest, students, and prospective students then I need to do the same.  Leaders set the tone.  Leaders set the example. Leaders can't let down.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

First, Factual, Frequent: 3Fs = A in Communication

By far any area that consistently receives a "needs improvement" from faculty and staff on a survey is the area of communication.  Recently, we conducted a survey on campus about "competencies" around student success initiatives.  After the survey we conducted a data dive activity that had faculty and staff analyze the results and assess the institution's strengths and opportunities as indicated from the survey.  During the report out session about the data, almost every spokes person referenced communication in one form or another.  Some reported that departments needed to communication better with other departments.  Some reported that administrators needed to communication more frequently with employees.  Some reported the institution needed to communicate better with students.  Without a doubt the common theme was communication.

Improving communication is something I have pondered frequently as a leader.  Certainly based upon the results of the activity referenced above I can safely conclude we haven't figured it all out yet. However, there is one principle about communication that I have developed and applied that has improved communication.  That principle is to communicate first, factually, and frequently about an important issue or topic.  Lets examine each of the three elements of this principle.

First:  Communicate the news to the appropriate people before anyone else does.  I think of this as the concentric circle model.  Communicate the news to the most effected person or unit first, then the next effected unit and so on before you release the information to the public or to the news.  Be sure to communicate to your supervisor before anything goes public as well.

Factually:  Your communication should be fact based.  Without opinions or defending the information.  Just be factual.

Frequently:  You may need to repeat your communication several times in several different mediums. You may also need to anticipate repeating the information in frequent intervals and in frequent mediums.  Not everyone is paying attention to things happening on campus.  Also, different audiences are on campus at different times and days.  The more critical or difficult the information the more frequent you may have to repeat the information.

The last principle I believe is helpful in communicating is to "correct the record".  Information is not always heard or understood the same way it is communicated.  Consequently, you may need to correct the information from time to time as people may not hear or remember the information as accurately as you need.

Remember, that communication is an important element of an organization.  That is why everyone is focused upon it and wants it to improve no matter how good it may be.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Data Competency

Periodically in higher education there are "movements" that drive behavior.  For example, I frequently hear from higher education professionals that they are working on being more "collaborative" with other institutions of higher education.  These "movements" often include terms that represent the focus of the "movement".  For example, assessment and evaluation are terms that are frequently uttered by professional in higher education.  Recently the term pathways , guided pathways, intrusive advising and data literacy have emerged as terms to represent the latest "movements".  

These movements and terms are frequently based upon research that identifies best practice.  These are important movements that administrators need to attune to and consider.  However, I have found that for administrators, faculty and staff who have been a part of higher education for many years, the terminology becomes challenging.  Why?  Because often these terms have been around equally as long and have been used in previous movements.  Consequently, the use of terminology and being very clear about what the terms mean within the current context of higher education and at one's institution is particularly important for ensuring clear communication.

"Data-driven decision making" is a term that has been around quite some time in higher education. The focus and use of data in higher education administration is not a new movement, but one that is a bit more timeless than some of the other fads of the day.  That is why the utilization of data by administrators is one of the leadership principles.  I do not see it becoming one of the fads that will ebb and flow like other movements in higher education.  Because of the timeless nature of "data-driven decision making" you may assume you are deeply familiar with its use and application.  However, have you ever stopped to contemplate what that means for your organization or what that looks like at your organization?

Prior to becoming a president at a community college I served as a professor of education at a university.  As part of my responsibilities I was to conduct research and engage in creative activities. In research there is a debate about the value qualitative versus quantitative data.  As a young instructor in higher education is was clear to me that there was a greater value place on quantitative data. Consequently, when I moved into administrative roles it was almost a natural for me to begin to use data to help inform my decisions.  However, just like research, there is a limit to what quantitative data provides. Consequently, the the discussion about the value of quantitative for qualitative data remained.  Other questions surfaced as well.  Questions about validity and reliability, distribution, and post-hoc analysis.  Rarely is a data strategy developed prior to the surfacing of a question or decisions.  Consequently, my research experiences only carried me so far in helping me figure out how best to approach data-driven decisions.

Using data to inform decisions as an administrator has taught me a more realistic approach.  It is not a matter of qualitative versus quantitative data, it is about data literacy.  "Data literacy is the ability to collect, manage, evaluate, and apply data, in a critical manner". (1)  Data literate educators:
  • know the different kinds of data that exist and which kind of data to use for which decision
  • evaluate the accuracy and sufficiency of each kind of data they will use
  • transform data from a variety of sources (classroom, school, district, state) into actionable information to guide decisions
  • hold themselves accountable for ethical generation, interpretation, and application of assessment data (2)
I have found that utilizing data to inform decisions is valuable, but even more valuable when the data is examined by a team.  Consequently, I find that I share data with my executive team when we are considering an institutional wide decision.  The multiple perspectives looking at the data provide a rich conversation that leads to an informed critique of the data.  This critique coupled with the multiple perspectives about the decision or issue at hand more often than not leads to a better decision than when the decision is made in isolation or the data is examined in isolation.  

Consequently, when I hire for positions, I often assess one's experience and comfort with data. Generally someone's comfort or experience with data isn't a hire or don't hire skill, but it is a skill I want to know about.  If someone doesn't have the experience with data I want to know about their comfort with data.  Understanding these perspectives help me understand how a prospective hire will fit with a team that does have a high commitment to data-driven decision making.  

(1) Ridsdale, C., Rothwell, J., Smit, M., "Strategies and Best Practices for Data Literacy Education".  Accessed, May 29, 2017.
(2) Dyer, K. (2014). "Data Literacy - What it is and How it Differs from Assessment Literacy". Accessed, May 29, 2017.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Know and Follow Policy

I recall a conversation from a time when I was teaching middle school students.  One student was acting up in class and I had to discipline the student.  When I walked over to him I quietly asked him to settle down and focus on the class material.  He complied.  After class he came over to apologize and then casually mentioned that he couldn't wait until he was the teacher because they he could do "whatever he wanted when he wanted".  I asked him why he thought teachers could do whatever they wanted.  He responded by saying, "Because they are in charge."  I reminded him that my boss was the principal.  He then replied, "Well, then I want to be the principal because then I can do what I want to do."  With that he left for recess.

The leadership principle of "knowing and following policy" applies to everyone in the organization whether they are the individuals at the lowest level of the organization or like me, the president.  Policy and related administrative rules and procedures are important for guiding the processes, making them predicable, fair and objective.  The creates a more transparent organization as well.

Policy and procedures function both as an empowering force and a restraining force.  Policy and procedure often include a clear delineation of authority and scope of responsibility around an issue. Further the policy or procedure includes a retraining factor.  For example, in matters of personnel an administrative rule can include the steps of progressive discipline.  These steps allow an individual the authority to discipline while at the same time define what level of discipline should be followed thereby restraining someone from being overly punitive for a minor infraction.

The importance of this leadership principle is often lost in the common sense of the principle.  However, over time people begin to assume that their behavior is consistent with policy and procedure and the "we've always done it this way" syndrome sets in causing routine behavior to be synonymous with procedure.  Eventually a person or event will challenge the assumption that previous practice had been synonymous with an administrative rule or procedure.  These moments are healthy for an organization and administrator because they allow for a pause to assess whether or not routine is consistent with administrative policy and procedures.

As a leader, it is important to regularly review your decisions along side policy and procedure to ensure that bad habits don't set in or routine becomes sloppy.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Solve Problems at the Lowest Level Possible

Problem solving is a daily task of a community college president.  Rarely are the problems solved in just one day.  The complexity of leading a multi-layered, multimillion dollar organization is a given. The growing accountability movement adds a pressure of constant monitoring and accountability. Consequently, the need to resolve problems and challenges in an effective and efficient manner is vital.

As the president I often think of myself as the "first among equals".  Certainly, the president has the responsibility to ensure that the organization is effective and efficient.  To be successful one needs a team.  That team needs to be empowered to resolve issues at the lowest level possible.  Managers within an organization need to know that they are expected to recognize problems and resolve them. They need to know that they are empowered to make those decisions and that they will get the support of their supervisors when solving those problems.

I reinforce this expectation as often as possible.  For example, students frequently e-mail me or contact me when they have concerns at the end of the semester pertaining to their grades.  Unless they have affirmed for me that they have first worked with the faculty member and/or department chair, I don't get involved, but rather send them back to the department.  I always explain to the student that the issues are best handled at the department level and that for the quickest possible review they need to begin with the department chair or dean depending upon who they have first talked with before e-mailing me.

Student concerns and issues are not the only way to reinforce the expectation of resolution at the lowest level possible.  I expect that individuals who see a problem on campus to report the problem to the person who can resolve the problem. Managers and leaders at all levels of the organization need to have the tools necessary to do their jobs and meet expectations.  This includes information as well as tangible resources.  Often these individuals see problems that people at the executive level of the organization can not see or know about.

In addition to reinforcing the expectation of resolving problems at the lowest level possible, one needs to recognize individuals who do resolve problems.  Problem solving skills are crucial in the workplace.  Consequently, I believe it is important to assess a candidates problem solving skills when looking to hire for positions on campus.  Problem solving as a skill is transferable.  It is also a skill that we must instill in our students.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


As a young person growing up in the Midwest, my mother would frequently remind me that "my sins would find me out".  My mother had a strong sense of right and wrong.  She also instilled in me that I should listen to those in authority in my life.  Her message was for those times when I might consider breaking a rule or ignoring those in authority in my life.  Ultimately, my mother instilled in me a sense of accountability.

As a community college president accountability is a concept that is ever present. Accountability is also ever present for the community college as an institution as well.  In an article, "The Changing Face of Accountability" published in 2000 in the Journal of Higher Education, the author referenced that during the past decade the nature of the relationship between higher education and government had changed.  In short, government is calling for more accountability for higher education. Fast forward over fifteen years later to today and the relationship of the government to higher education is still one of skeptism over the self-regulating, peer-review of accreditation. Consequently, the calls for higher education accountability continue and the debates rage over how to achieve that accountability.  Yet the accountability that I'm speaking of for me as an individual is still dependent upon self-regulation.  While I'm accountable to a governing board, self-regulation is the best way to ensure I remain true to my principle of accountability.

My second expectation for executive leaders is "to be accountable and make accountable".  While I've introduced this reflection based upon the idea of being accountable, the other side of that coin is the "make accountable".  Holding individuals within an organization accountable is not as easy as it might seem.

I begin by making sure that I articulate my expectations.  Those expectations include:

1.  Think at a level above the level you manage
2.  Be accountable and make accountable
3. Solve problems at the lowest level possible
4. Know and follow policy and administrative rules
5. Be competent with data
6. Communicate first, factual, frequently
7. Be professional and encourage professionalism
8. Be visible
9. Be a cheerleader

Beyond these broad expectations I try to be clear about more concrete expectations such as deadlines.  By knowing my expectations up front, leaders know how to proceed day to day in order to accomplish the goals of the organization and how to operate within the framework in which I want them to conduct business.  Creating accountability and holding others accountable creates transparency and predictability.  Just like sports have rules for playing the game, so must executive leaders know the rules under which I will engage with them and they should engage their employees.  

The above expectation number four, "Know and follow policy and administrative rules" also provides a context for making others accountable.  While this expectation will be discussed in greater length in a future post, it is still a framework in which to hold employees accountable.  

Accountability also comes when an organization has a clear strategic plan that is not only strategic, by measurable, realistic, and time bound.  Measuring productivity and benchmarking against goals and peers also produces accountability through establishing clear expectations.  

Ultimately, as a leader I must model accountability to ensure other leaders within the institution see accountability, are made accountable, and in turn make others accountable. Beyond modeling one must articulate expectations, have a clear vision that is measurable, and know the rules of engagement to ensure accountability throughout the organization.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Thinking Above

As a youngster growing up my father would always share his words of wisdom in the form of pity phrases. For example, he would frequently say to me, "Anything worth doing is worth doing right."  Certainly he was instilling in me his values and guiding me to be the adult he thought I should be.  Another thing my father would say to me is "think ahead".  He was trying to help me see the value of anticipating.  Similarly, a quote from Wayne Gretzky about his success is that he would "skate to where the puck is going not where it has been," also illustrates the power of anticipation. 

Playing off that theme is a leadership expectation I often share with my executive leadership team.  "Think at least one level above the level you manage."  This expectation is about anticipation, but it is even more about perspective.  As a leader it is important that one keep in mind the context in which they are leading.  Perspective is gained when one steps back, observes, reflects, and then upon drawing conclusions testing those conclusions to see if they are relevant and realistic.  

I find myself asking questions to help me "think at least one level above the level I manage".  I ask things like:

1. How might my supervisor see this?
2. How does this situation relate to similar situations across the campus?
3. How would I talk about this to outsiders?

While these are not hard and fast questions, they suggest a strategy for stepping back and reflecting. Questions often allow the opportunity to help one see a situation from another person's perspective.  Sometimes situations and circumstances push buttons that draw us in deeper to situations.  Often moving closer and closer to situation does not help us to be objective.  Moving closer can also trigger emotions that are not helpful.  Consequently, stepping back and asking questions allows for a more careful, objective examination of the situation leading to solutions that might not be obvious.  

Observation can be a helpful technique to "thinking at least one level above the level you manage." Take time to observe leaders at higher levels.  Ask yourself what you might do if you were in their situation.  Think about what strategies and characteristics you are observing that you might want to incorporate into your own leadership style.  My father always said that, "Wise men (and women) learn from others' mistakes; fools from their own."  His frequent quotation taught me to observe and learn from what I observed.  Learning from others has resulted in a quest for life-long learning with the goal of getting better at being a leader.  

One might ask, "How do you think one level above the level you manage when you are a president?" Perhaps it implies that a president has reached the "top".  Perhaps it implies that a level above a president is less easily defined.  Certainly as a president of a higher education institution I still have to answer to a governing board, a state government who allocates money, voters who allocate bonds and mill levy and a chancellor of a system.  Consequently, I find myself thinking about what these various stakeholders would expect of me and what they might expect when I have to address various situations.  

As you consider leadership at any level, reminder to "think one level above the level you manage."  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Building Leadership Through Articulating Expectations: Introduction

In the higher education sector it is common for someone at one level, who has been very successful in a job that is solely dependent upon individual success, to be promoted to the next level in an administrative job that requires a team to be successful.  Individual success does not mean that the individual is able to lead a team.  This doesn't mean that someone who is successful in work that is solely dependent upon them self should not be promoted to work that requires a team.  What this does mean is that leaders within the higher education sector might want to consider whether or not promoting someone without some form of assessment of or professional development related to building a team and cultivating team work is a practice that should be continued.

As you might expect, I'm suggesting that higher education institutions should consider assessing an individual's competency around building, leading, and assessing team prior to promoting them.  I'm also suggesting that higher education institutions should be very intentional in providing professional development when promoting people within the organization.  Last, higher educational institutions should also consider how they on-board leaders within the organization to ensure they are cultivating the culture they wish to have at the institution.  All of these consideration requirement prior thought about culture and expectations.

My expectations for leaders at the department and division level have been formed over time. These expectations have been formed from my own experiences when serving at those levels and from experiences supervising those who served at those levels.  These expectations have been formed within institutions that had a culture that I wanted to encourage and at institutions with a culture that I wanted to transform.

Most of these expectations are principles that can be applied at any level of the organization and most likely can be applied both within and outside of the higher education sector.  Let me share with you my expectations.

1.  Think at a level above the level you manage.
2.  Be accountable and make accountable.
3. Solve problems at the lowest level possible.
4. Know and follow policy and administrative rules.
5. Be competent with data.
6. Communicate first, factual, frequently.
7. Be professional and encourage professionalism
8. Be visible.
9. Be a cheerleader.

The next several posts will explore in more depth what each of these expectations look like when successfully practiced.

Friday, March 24, 2017

WELCOME to Campus

Have you ever visited someones house and FELT unwelcome? Have you ever walked into a room and FELT tension?  If so, you will be able to empathize with some of our students.  How so, you ask?
One of the most amazing aspects of the United States is our diversity.  I attended a fundraising lunch a couple of weeks ago and diversity was clearly exhibited at our table.  I sat next to a biology professor who was here on a HB1 visa and teaching at a university.  Two women sitting at the table were a couple recently married.  The heterosexual couple shared with us that they would be celebrating 30 years of marriage in the next month.  Many ages were represented at the table.  I suspect had the luncheon continued for another hour I would have learned about their diverse political and religious views and perhaps even more.  The conversations were rich because the people were diverse.  I left the luncheon very uplifted and entertained.

Dona Ana Community College's student body is very diverse.  That diversity includes a whole range of differences.  What is very important to me is that everyone feels "at home" at DACC.  I believe it is important to create a comfortable, stimulating environment at the college in which students are able to learn.  That goal is not just a goal for the classroom, but for the entire campus - or in our case - all of our campuses and learning centers.

I find myself asking the question, "How can we ensure we have a comfortable, inviting environment for all students?"

I suspect we engage in a variety of activities, similar to many institutions of higher education, with the goal of creating a safe, comfortable environment for students.  Our faculty and staff engage in a variety of professional development opportunities that focus on a respect of diversity.  We think intentionally about creating spaces on campus for students to "hang out" and engage in conversations with friends and colleagues, get basic needs met, and connect their devices.  We think intentionally about signage and "way finding" to help friends, family and guests find needed services, offices, and people.  There is also much more we do to try to be "student-oriented".

Additionally, every couple of years we administer a student satisfaction survey to ask students about their experience on campus.  We use the data to identify areas of high importance to our students where they are both very satisfied and areas where they are not very satisfied.  We target the areas that need improvement and begin to research best practices in order to improve.  This continual improvement process is important to me.  No matter how intentional we are about helping our students feel comfortable on campus, without their feedback we have no way of knowing whether or not we are hitting our goal.

So next time you are asked to take a survey at the college, remember how important your input and feedback is to us.  Your ratings and comments help us continue to make you and all our students feel at home.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why History Matters

Monday I had the opportunity to interview a former DACC president for our library archives.  I had the opportunity to interview the first DACC president during the dedication of a building we named in his honor.   Click here to see that interview.  My goal is to interview all former DACC presidents while they are alive to try to capture their reflections about their presidency.  Why?

First, as someone who has studied history I enjoy history and in particular I enjoy oral history. Second, I believe it is important for leaders at an institution to know about and understand its history. It is important to understand an institution's mission in order to understand an institution's mission. As an institution of higher education DACC maintains archives in our library that include important documents the institution must keep and wants to keep.  Some of these documents are necessary and others are wonderful artifacts that maintain information about some of the important events that shaped our current situation. These oral history interviews will be included in the archives and also housed on the institution's YouTube site.

Let me share with you just a little about what I have learned so far.  Both interviews have provided insights into our relationship with New Mexico State University.  For many of us who come to work at the college, the relationship makes sense. However, for many people outside of New Mexico and outside of both institutions the relationship seems odd.  However, both oral histories gave insight about how the "branch" came to exist.  The community college was established out of New Mexico State University to serve a very specific population for very specific careers in criminal justice, secretarial careers and nursing.  Career and Technical education is DACC's foundation.  There have been times when I have tried to move an initiative forward and had to work with a department at NMSU.  In working with that department a certain procedure was applied.  While in the moment I wondered about how the procedure came to be - the history of the relationship between DACC and NMSU helps explain the context in which the procedure came to be.

The interviews also illuminate how the community college evolved into the buildings and locations we occupy.  It is interesting how so often opportunities were seized and as a result our locations grew to include seven different locations.  The three locations in the city of Las Cruces evolved because new programs needed new spaced.  Our locations in Hatch (click here to see the ground breaking) and the south county evolved because we served the population through adult basic education and high school completion programs.

Edmund Burke once said, "Those that don't know history are doomed to repeat it."  I believe that those who don't know the history of an institution are apt to run afoul.  How institutions evolve is important for understanding the culture of an institution.  The culture, often hidden, is the fabric that keeps the institution wrapped together.  As a leader of an institution it is important to understand the culture and how it evolved, particularly when trying to initiate change or enhance what is working.

Have you ever wondered about the person whose name is on a building?  Have you ever wondered about the person depicted in statue?  Have you ever wondered why an institution is organized the way it is organized?  If not, I challenge you to think about how an institution evolved into what it is today. I suspect you will find many unique stories and people.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Power of Hope

Last Saturday we hosted 250 or more 6th grade girls on campus for a 4 hour event called "Girls Can". The event is planned and organized by the local chapter of the American Associate of University Women.  The purpose is to encourage girls to think about careers in STEM fields and to realize that many careers and opportunities are available to them.  Simultaneously AAUW hosts the family members of these girls to share information about how to begin preparing for college in middle school and what to expect from "adolescence".

The event is particularly important to me.  Sharing with 6th graders and their parents about what opportunities exist is very important.  I believe if a middle and high school student has a goal - a big goal, a career goal - if you will, they are more likely to stay in school and graduate with their high school diploma.  Certainly these are prospective students for us in the future.  But more idealistically, these young ladies have the potential to fill important jobs in our workforce.  Among them could be the next governor of New Mexico or the nurse who takes care of a family member.

A knowledgeable king once said, "Without a vision the people will perish".  I believe that hope is a powerful thing.  I also believe that by helping our young people see a range of possible careers that they may begin to dream and believe.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Blame Game

On June 14, 2011, Matt Wuerker published this political cartoon illustrating the state of accountability in education in the United States.  The cartoon sparked much conversation around the water cooler at the community college I was working at the time it appeared. Ironically, the cartoon appeared around the time we in higher education were discussing the success or failure of developmental (remedial) education within the community colleges.  Certainly some within our sector pointed to the public high schools, wondering why students arrive to our doors unprepared for college.  Professors who teach in the first college English or Mathematics course after the developmental sequence often ask why students who took developmental course work aren't more prepared for the college course. Consequently, I have concluded Wuerker's cartoon is illustrative of many other "cycles" of blame that intersect with my profession.

Another example of this "blame game" swirles around "soft skills".  In the course of my activities as a community college president I interact with economic development organizations, chambers of commerace and business professionals who hire our graduates.  Each of our career and technical programs have advisory councils that meet at least twice annually to advise and guide our programs to ensure our graduates are prepared for the profession for which they trained.  In each of these types of environments the term "soft skills" is mentioned.  Many within these circles want us to produce graduates with "soft skills".  When I probe these individuals about what they mean by "soft skills" I hear related themes, but not necessarily are the answers always the same.

By soft skills I frequently hear from businesses that they want individuals who will show up to work on time, work hard, get along with their colleagues, and can pass a drug test.  Sometimes I hear conversations about soft skills to include communication, team work, collaboration, and worth ethic or "going the extra mile".  Periodically, someone will throw in honesty as a desired skill.  Ironically, the community college is also an employer and many of us who hire people to join the teams within our organization expect much of the same type of skills.  We know first hand as an employer about the challenge of find people with the necessary soft skills to be successful in our organization.

On the flip side of this conversation I frequently talk to our students, particularly around fall enrollment and May graduation and when I ask our prospective students why they are thinking about coming to DACC or planning to study a particular program, they often tell me about the job or career they hope to obtain upon graduation.  I have never heard a student tell me that they were coming to obtain a degree simply because they were interested in a subject and wanted to learn it "just because".  The majority of students are hoping that their education opens up opportunities for a job or career.

When graduates are not able to obtain a job after graduation they wonder why and sometimes blame the college for not preparing them for a job.  When employers are not able to find prospects with the skills they want and need they often look to us to ensure that our graduates have the "soft skills" employers want.  Neither groups' expectations are unreasonable.  The question I often ask myself - How do you "teach" these soft skills?  We can teach programming, blood draws, welding melds, mathematical equations, grammar, painting techniques and so much more.  But how does one learn a work ethic, honesty, teamwork?

More and more I am becoming persuaded that experiential learning is a vital component for preparing our graduates for work.  Course work can assist graduates in obtaining the knowledge and technical skills necessary for their field of study, but only authentic experiences can help them truly understand what employers expect.  Our faculty consistently report that they discuss them importance of these soft skills through out the curriculum. I have observed our faculty talking to their classes about these skills so I know they are telling our students about what they will need to be successful.  However talking about skills is not the same as obtaining those skills - after all, I can talk about ice skating all I want, but that doesn't mean I can skate.

I believe we need consider how to expand our experiential learning experiences within our programs of study so students can observe and experience the expectations of employers.  One of my favorite videos that best illustrates those expectations is entitled, "The Entitlement Creed".  Click here to watch.