One of the attributes of the best businesses is their tradition of developing and mentoring leaders, and thoughtful succession planning. We do not do as well in academia. Rather, we use the swim or sink approach.
Our tradition calls upon scholars to become academic leaders based on their research or education credentials, or their experiences while serving on certain committees. Often, these individuals have limited administrative responsibility and have made few strategic and fiscal decisions before they are advanced into a leadership role.
As a result, our talent is under utilized, particularly of women, visible minorities and new Canadians, who tend not to be immediately perceived as anodyne leadership material.
Here, I am not seeking a Pygmalion effect. Rather, my intent is to facilitate an inclusive leadership cadre in our Faculty through mentoring and professional development. This process will be blind to the influences of gender, race, ethnicity and provincial or national origin.
Engineering is improving its leadership cadre in several ways. First, through retreats, Dean’s Council, continuous collegial discussion and the critical use of evidence, we have enhanced our decision-making and made it more transparent. This allows new leaders to learn how to develop a vision for the future.
Next, units now make incentive-based decisions which allow them to match their strategic plans, such as for hiring, operations and expansion, with the targeted investments that are being made by the Faculty. Doing so, enables emerging leaders to learn how to align their aspirations with Faculty and institutional objectives.
Third, the Faculty Development Academy provides a platform for networking, professional development, communication and awareness, all important ingredients for developing leaders.
Finally, our Faculty Leadership Fellow program allows faculty members to work closely with the associate deans on focused projects that are timely and useful. Through this program, faculty members learn about the complexities, difficulties and rewards associated with making useful decisions.
With training and support, our academic leaders will embrace innovation with courage and imagination.
(Recommended reading: 5 Mistakes of Rookie Deans.)