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What’s Needed in Continuing Education Leadership

The EvoLLLution | What’s Needed in Continuing Education Leadership
Continuing education leaders are a breed of their own, and success requires dynamism, innovation and creativity. This self-assessment inventory is designed to help leaders understand their strengths and identify areas for growth.

When conducting research for a daylong conference that I was asked to facilitate by the American Council on Education for women in higher education leadership in 2015, I read an article in the Washington Post written by University of Arizona economics Professor Paul Portney identifying a vacuum of leadership in higher education. It caused me to think a lot at the time about the state of management in higher education, the seeming gaps that exist in the preparation of academic leaders for executive jobs, and the lack of training they receive for these jobs—jobs for which, in most other organizations, an MBA or some equivalent preparation would be required.

I wondered if the situation needed to be as problematic as it was, or if we could do something to improve it. While many college and university leaders are certainly experts in their chosen field, rarely are they required to take a course in management, finance, human resources administration, organizational development or other related fields critical to solid leadership practice when they are promoted. Dr. Portney stated that “leadership training, a staple in virtually every company … is all but absent in universities.”

At the conference, we designed a self-assessment inventory for attendees to help them develop greater self-awareness and to create pathways for self-growth toward more transformative leadership models. The inventory appears below. Over and above transformative leadership ability, however, the field of continuing education demands an even more unique and demanding assortment of leadership skills.

Good leadership in continuing education is complex, with layers of diverse competencies required for practitioners to be successful. These include innovation, building and managing effective teams, negotiation, business generation, strategic thinking, entrepreneurship and political savvy, to name just a few. They are indispensable to successful job performance in our field.

In a research survey of leading continuing educators in 2010, a list of over 22 critical leadership competencies for continuing educators emerged. The list included the following:

  1. Demonstrates sound judgment, effective decision-making
  2. Communicates effectively within complex organizations
  3. Is results-oriented; takes initiative
  4. Is accountable and dependable
  5. Exhibits creative, innovative thinking and problem-solving
  6. Can motivate teams of employees, faculty and students
  7. Is adaptable and flexible
  8. Can build strategic alliances
  9. Is entrepreneurial, can develop new education markets
  10. Tolerates ambiguity and risk
  11. Understands institutional strategic vision
  12. Negotiates effectively
  13. Possesses good planning and organizational skills
  14. Possesses curiosity and imagination
  15. Has a customer service focus
  16. Promotes and practices openness and empowers others
  17. Is a passionate advocate, aligned with values of both the wider organization and CE
  18. Is an educator and learner
  19. Is energetic, with a sense of humor
  20. Is up to date on the best practices in executive CE management
  21. Is successful at community outreach and at developing learning communities
  22. Possesses a global vision and multicultural literacy

Responders to the survey noted that “leaders in our field must have multi-dimensional perspectives, to meet the constantly changing environment and the ability to think strategically and work collaboratively, both with internal and external constituents. In our complex setting of higher education, continuing education leaders need to develop effective methods to engage in constant renewal.”

Where else in the academy are leaders required to demonstrate as many competencies? Higher education professionals are typically experts in one field and are not expected to manifest an abundance of diverse talents to perform their jobs successfully. Continuing educators must possess the academic expertise to lead degree programs and faculty, possess the vision and entrepreneurship to create marketable offerings that drive revenue reliably from year to year and navigate the various resource and budget challenges and opportunities that emerge. They also need the managerial competency to supervise teams and to inspire, motivate and successfully mentor successful performance in many groups of people—from enrollment managers, to marketers, to program directors and advisors—without whom creating attractive, remunerative and relevant programs would be impossible. Continuing educators are artists who are required to call upon an assortment of divergent skills and blend them together seamlessly into one role that will satisfy the demanding performance objectives of their jobs as well as the insatiable hunger of their institutions for more enrollment and revenue annually.

What approaches, philosophies or practices do CE leaders rely upon to develop ourselves professionally? In what ways are innovative leadership practices adapted to render our units successful? How do we learn to take advantage of the economic, demographic and social changes occurring presently and turn them into business-generating opportunities at our institutions? We know that continuing educators must forge innovative approaches that result in successful revenue generation, creative resource allocation and entrepreneurial programming to seize opportunities that emerge; yet how do we learn these skills, who teaches us, and how can we ensure that future continuing educators will also learn them?

Our field needs more training and development programs specifically targeted to growing a set of dynamic leadership skills that make continuing educators successful.

To date, ACHE is the only continuing education organization that recognizes the special aspects of leadership that are required in CE leaders today. Through its Emerging Leaders Institute, ACHE helps develop and hone these skills in its members, advancing new generations of education leaders in ways that are unparalleled in our field. I believe we need to go further, however, and to provide greater value to our members through career certification in key areas of CE—such as marketing, business generation, program development, enrollment management, industry partnerships, negotiation, leading CE teams, entrepreneurship, financial management in CE and others. This will help to professionalize our field in the eyes of our university colleagues, credentialize our members (something we do habitually for other professions, but not for ourselves) and provide improved job security for professionals in our field.

In addition, we need to create robust mentoring activities and involve more of our veteran colleagues to develop this training and help guide and prepare tomorrow’s leaders for new and unforeseen continuing education challenges. I look forward to helping to foster dialogue between the generations of continuing educators and to assist them in forging solid pathways to develop the skills required by our profession for successful leadership practice now and for future generations of practitioners.

Below is the inventory of leadership competencies that was created for the ACE workshop used by the attendees to rate themselves. In total, these summarize some of the most critical aspects of transformational, contemporary leadership practice in most any field. ACHE will be adapting these and preparing an inventory specifically for continuing education leadership for its Emerging Leaders Institute in June.

Click here to download the Leadership Self-Assessment Inventory.

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