Inclusive Leadership: ‘big picture strategy, concern for individuals’ | Texas A&M University-San Antonio

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As the pandemic persists, universities and colleges are facing additional pressure to balance ongoing challenges and stakeholder demands — and solid, inclusive university leadership is crucial to the impact an institution is able to make in the communityexperts say.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio is in the midst of several executive leadership changes, with the current search for a new provost, welcoming a new dean of students and newly hired vice president for university advancement and external relations.

The Mesquite asked thesis leadership professionals to weigh in on leadership change and what it means to be an inclusive leader:

  • Lynn Pasquarella, president, Association of American Colleges and Universities
  • Dr. Amy C. Lewis, associate dean, College of Business

The Mesquite: What opportunities are there for a university community to foster inclusive leadership?

Pasquarella: Community conversations, having sessions around identifying values, a mission and a vision for the institution. That can take the form of open office hours, structured community conversation in residence halls, open forums on campus, talk back to particular issues on campus, written communication, podcasts…whatever vectors are available…student news…to ensure that everyone understands the values that are information about the leadership.

Whenever there’s new leadership there’s an opportunity for the community to come together to talk about its shared value. Especially in a comprehensive strategic planning process. New leaders will get a sense and use those to inform a plan for the future.

Lewis: In terms of making people feel empowered and valued, is treating them with enough respect to say, ‘There might be a decision you aren’t going to like but that I (as a leader) can fully disclose to you and explain the rationale, perhaps even acknowledge it’s not the outcome I want either.’ In saying that ‘I understand as a rational employee, you can understand that sometimes situations are unfavorable, but we’re doing the best we can.’ So those types of things can increase feeling seen and heard, instead of feeling like you’re being treated like a fungible resource.”

The Mesquite: What kind of leaders does higher education need in today’s social climate?

It’s a trust issue, If you don’t trust you either hoard it all in there and try to do it yourself, which leads to frustration, leads to people wanting to be able to contribute. At the other extreme is that you delegate, and then you micromanage, which is not a good use of resources.

Pasquarella: Somebody who has a commitment to, first and foremost, student success… understands that leaders are there to support the needs of students who support faculty and staff, in terms of their commitment to engaging in innovation. In terms of foundations for student success, leaders that are transparent, collaborative, cooperative and authentic in demonstrating their values, who listen critically and with understanding to the concerns of all members of the university community.

Lewis: Especially in this context of being in the midst of a pandemic and really… a sea change in employment, it’s getting more and more crucial that you have leaders that view building up their employees as one of their key strengths. I think sometimes leadership, we only look at the 30,000-foot level of setting a strategic plan and charting the vision, but you also have to get the team there. If you, as a leader, don’t value that teamwork and try to do it on your own…what’s the point of the rest of the team? You can’t do it on your own. Being able to balance that big-picture strategy with concern for individuals… that balancing act is very important.

Delegating is something that is a real skill for leaders and something that I see as sometimes a leadership struggle… it’s a trust issue, If you don’t trust you either hoard it all in there and try to do it yourself, which leads to frustration , leads to people wanting to be able to contribute. At the other extreme is that you delegate, and then you micromanage, which is not a good use of resources. In terms of other leadership skills, the ability to actually make connections and listen to feedback, that’s one that a lot of leaders struggle with, especially in situations with change management, the ability to stay open-minded and receive feedback.

The Mesquite: How can ineffective leadership impact an organization?

Pasquarella: If there’s bad management, especially if it is bad fiscal management, it takes a toll on the mission of the institution. But if there is a thwarting of shared governance, a lack of transparency, collaboration, collegiality, it creates a culture that undermines the organization because there are policies, practices, procedures that are written but, often what’s more powerful are the unwritten rules and practices in a culture that can really create a long-term negative effect.

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