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Cascading announcements reporting on the appointments of new presidents, provosts and deans have begun in earnest and will continue for months to come. As this year has demonstrated, such positions are more challenging than ever before, and college and university leaders need all the help they can get to land and launch well in these roles. Having worked closely with many newly appointed presidents, provosts and deans over more than 20 years in higher education, I’ve compiled a set of dos and don’ts that may be helpful to consider if you are preparing for one of these positions now or sometime in the future.

Don’t go it alone. Substantial resources are devoted to identifying skilled and savvy individuals to take on these complex roles, with institutions often retaining highly paid search firms and convening broad-based committees that devote many months to the weighty task of recruitment and matchmaking. Those painstaking approaches make good sense, particularly given the magnitude of responsibilities leaders assume.

But equally important, though often neglected, is ensuring that, as a newly appointed leader, you have a dedicated, trusted transition adviser to help you learn about not only a new position but often a new environment as well—one complete with distinct customs, vocabulary, norms, processes and trip wires. It is incumbent on you to take deliberate steps to secure a dedicated guide to help navigate the transition—and to have that resource in place before the first official day in office. An adviser can assist in avoiding any possible land mines, help assess an organizational structure, thoughtfully engage key constituencies and support purposeful communication to engender good will early in your term. Whether an internal resource or an external consultant, having a partner to help gather and plan is more than prudent—it’s essential.

Do take advantage of day one. The first official day on the job offers a singular opportunity to communicate widely, invite curiosity, stoke enthusiasm and inspire confidence among key constituencies. Having a strategic and coordinated approach is as important as having a set of fundamental tools: an introductory letter and/or video, a vibrant website complete with current materials and clear messaging, and a social media plan. While campus communication officers may and should be planning for a thoughtful rollout, as the new leader, you should ensure that a robust plan is in place and actively shape communications to reflect your voice, priorities and values. Be a full participant in planning and crafting communications and make certain that perhaps less obvious yet still vitally important key stakeholders beyond the campus community are included, such as civic leaders, neighborhood associations and community partners.

This is the one day when hundreds and potentially thousands will engage with a social media site or visit a webpage to learn about you, the new campus leader. Simply updating a predecessor’s site or relying on a dated headshot is underwhelming and makes poor use of this milestone occasion.

Don’t assume you’ll have what you need. Very often, new leaders succeed long-serving individuals who are deeply familiar with the community, rarely rely on briefing materials or talking points and have a particular style or approach to decision-making. In addition, leadership transitions can have ripple effects, with senior staff members scheduling coincidental departures.

Evaluate the resources and structures necessary for success and determine any vacancies or other gaps. Will you need a chief of staff, writer, scheduler or data analyst? Do you have a well-functioning senior team or cabinet? Know the landscape and try to have as much in place early on—or a plan to build structures and enhance capacity while positions are filled—so you don’t spend valuable time scrambling for support or filling holes.

Do have something to say. Early days as a new president, provost or dean will include endless opportunities to speak—and to make a first (or second) impression. Every meeting, reception and gathering—formal or informal—is important, and being purposeful about maximizing those opportunities is vital.

What attracted you to this role, this place, this community? What can people expect from you as a leader? What is your charge? How will you develop a path forward, and what will you need from others? New leaders don’t necessarily need a fully developed vision as they begin, but members of the institution’s extended community will want to understand your values and commitment to the place and its people as well as how they can be engaged in helping you advance its mission.

Don’t be shy. As a new leader, you will receive invitations to meet from students, alumni, faculty and staff members, local community groups, and others. Yet it also behooves you to be proactive in reaching out to key constituencies to make introductions and invite wide-ranging perspectives. This small gesture conveys respect and offers the chance to listen and learn.

Visit department chairs early on. Have lunch with student leaders. Invite elected officials to campus or visit them in their offices. Making time to explore your new institution’s history and understand its distinctive and defining character will yield enduring dividends.

Do learn your new institution’s alma mater. The most successful leaders take the time to learn the rituals and customs of an institution, including something as simple and symbolic as the words to the alma mater. Doing so demonstrates a commitment to inclusion—and it signals that you may just plan to stay awhile.

Marisa Quinn is principal and founder of Conanicut Strategies LLC, a consulting practice serving mission-driven institutions and their leaders at the intersection of strategy, public affairs, policy development, strategic planning and communications. Prior to this, she spent more than two decades at Brown University serving in a variety of senior roles, including assistant to the president, vice president for public affairs and university, and chief of staff to the provost.

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