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Are you a graduate of an intensive leadership / professional development institute, program, or experience?

Have you ever enjoyed the opportunity to spend a few days off campus with colleagues from other institutions, investing in developing your knowledge about our higher ed industry and your own leadership skills?

Do you aspire to attend some sort of higher ed leadership institute, and if so what program or opportunity might you have in mind?

Last week I participated in the CLIR and EDUCAUSE sponsored Leading Change Institute (LCI). Each cohort of participants is chosen in a competitive process among "leaders in higher education, including CIOs, librarians, information technology professionals, and administrators, who are interested in working collaboratively to promote and initiate change on critical issues affecting the academy."

My 2017 cohort of 33 LCI fellows joins a group of ~650 higher ed folks who have participated in the institute (initially known as the Frye Leadership Institute) since its inception in 2000. 

In trying to make sense of LCI experience, I keep coming back to the idea of privilege. Specifically, the four privileges of the opportunity to have attending this intensive week-long leadership institute:

1 - The Privilege of Having Institutional Support:

Every applicant for the Leading Change Institute (LCI) is championed by someone at their institution. In practice, this letter of support is almost always written by someone in campus leadership -- someone who can also figure out how to fund the LCI tuition and travel costs. Nobody attends the Leading Change Institute in isolation, as each attendee represents a large investment (both in dollars and release time) for the accepted participants.

During the week at LCI we spent considerable time talking about the privilege of being able to attend the Institute. Of coming from institutions and having bosses that are not only able to find the funds, but to also support the participants spending a full week totally focused on the work of the Institute. (The week is intense, with really no time to keep work e-mail or remote meetings going). 

We also talked about our colleagues that are unable to attend a week-long leadership development program like LCI, as finding the resources for such a program is extraordinarily difficult in this age of public funding cutbacks, rising campus costs (the cost disease), and competition to attract and retain students.  How to make opportunities such as LCI available for more of our higher ed colleagues, particularly colleagues working within acutely resource constrained environments, was identified as a major challenge for the sponsors and attendees of LCI.

2 - The Privilege of Working in Higher Education:

One of the main themes of LCI was the privilege that we all have to work in higher education, and how with this privilege comes many responsibilities. Among the most urgent of responsibilities for the next generation of postsecondary leaders will be to figure out how to ensure the longterm sustainability of our institutions (and our industry) within the context of challenging economic, demographic, and political headwinds. 

It is impossible to spend an intensive week studying and talking about higher education without developing a healthy sense of concern about our industry. The more one learns about the structural economic challenges of the postsecondary industry in general, and of the large number of smaller tuition dependent non-profit colleges and universities in particular, the more concerned one becomes.  

What is great about LCI is that the activities of the Institute don’t stop at learning about the challenges of the higher ed industry. Rather, LCI is focused on providing practical skills, experiences, and knowledge that participants can bring back to their institutions to help lead positive change. The skills necessary to navigate the complexities of individual colleges and universities are multifaceted, and probably can’t be learned in abstraction. LCI builds its programming around giving participants opportunities to participate in scenario creation and role playing - and to practice these skills in environments of uncertainty and ambiguity.

3 -  The Privilege of Having A Dedicated and Talented Collegial Network:

Like most professional and leadership development opportunities, perhaps the biggest advantage to participation is the development of a deep professional network.  LCI is no exception. 

The people who attend LCI - the librarians and technologists and teaching and learning people - are all truly extraordinary. Extraordinary in the sense of not only having decades of experience in their fields, or having moved through successively responsible leadership positions at their institutions, but also for the incredible commitment and dedication they have for their disciplines, professions, and institutions.

As worried as I am about the future of higher education, I am equally heartened by the commitment that I witnessed amongst LCI participants to drive positive change. There was no defense of the higher ed status quo. Each participant seemed to think about institutional change from the perspective of values.  Everyone talked about the need to make higher education more equitable and affordable, while also improving quality. 

Every LCI attendee was deeply committed to partnering with and supporting faculty - including non-tenure track faculty - on their campuses. If the attendees of the Leading Change Institute are at all representative, then internal motivation and commitment to change are not what is missing amongst emerging leaders in higher education.

4 - The Privilege of Interacting With Today’s Higher Ed Leaders Who Are Invested In Creating Tomorrow’s Higher Ed Leaders:

The final privilege I want to mention is that of being exposed to a group of senior higher ed leaders who are absolutely dedicated to developing and nurturing the next generation of higher ed leaders.  This group of senior leadership includes the Deans of LCI, Joanne Kossuth and Elliott Shore, as well as the amazing group of leaders who speak with and interact with the attendees throughout the week. 

The list of well-known and high ranking postsecondary leaders that LCI brings in is too long to enumerate in this space - I encourage you to look at the list of speakers  - but the real story is not in this list of names. Rather, what makes the LCI experience different is that each of the speakers invested significant time to personally interact with the attendees. The vibe was much more about conversation than presentation.  Almost every speaker spent time with the group outside of their talks and panels, and all were genuinely interested in getting to know the participants as individuals.

What was amazing about all of these leaders that we interacted with during Institute was their sense of optimism. None of the folks who interacted with the LCI participants sugar-coated the enormous challenges faced by individual institutions, or the industry as a whole. To a person, however, they all demonstrated the power of articulating a positive vision for change. 

An unshakeable belief in the value of higher education, coupled with a positive vision about how to lead change to respond to a whole range of challenges facing our institutions and our industry, are amongst the qualities that seem to distinguish the successful higher ed leaders. The ability to be both critical and positive, realistic yet optimistic, seems to me to be amongst the most important of the qualities necessary for tomorrow’s higher ed leaders. These qualities were constantly on display amongst the Deans and invited speakers at LCI. 

Was LCI perfect?  Of course not.  Every educational program has areas where things can be improved. What is more important is that the leadership of LCI actively solicited feedback, and seemed to be fully committed to continuous improvement.

The area of LCI that cannot be improved upon is how the Institute is run.  The work of Amy Lucko (Director of Program Administration at CLIR) and Joan Cheverie (Director, Professional Development at EDUCAUSE)  should be particularly commended.  The Leading Change Institute is organized and run with just an amazing degree of skill and polish. I can only imagine the work that the Deans and the staff put into planning this sort of intensive and immersive week-long experience.  

Can you share your experiences with higher ed leadership development programs?

What programs have you attended, or would like to attend?

What sort of leadership programs would you like to see available?

Do you have any ideas about how to expand opportunities so that more of our higher ed colleagues can participate in opportunities such as LCI?

For those amongst us who are graduates of Frye and LCI, or similar intensive leadership development programs, what would you want to share about the experience with our IHE community?

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