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Essentials of New Leadership

April 30, 2011

Well, it’s been a very busy eight months in my new leadership position, and too long since I last posted. As I move forward, my blog will now include posts such as this one about the choices I’ve been making in my current role leading a university marketing and admissions program.

New Leadership. I’ve written about leading a university marketing program, but what about beginning one? What should a new leader do in order to establish his/her role as a marketing leader? And what part does campus culture play in adapting best practices and marketing theory to your new campus?

In Right From the Start: Taking Charge In A New Leadership Role, authors Dan Ciampa and Michael Watkins provide a game plan for the first six months for leaders who are new to an organization. highlights the important points:

“64 percent of executives hired from outside won’t make it in their new jobs. While executives from within the ranks know the challenges, culture, and politics of a company, newcomers face a corporate minefield.

“Ciampa, an independent consultant, and Watkins, a Harvard Business School associate professor, advise three key missions for new leaders: Create momentum; master the ability to learn, convey a vision, and build coalitions; and know and manage yourself well. In fact, they say, the most important period starts with the recruitment or interview process and runs through the first six months in a new role.”

It’s clear to me now that when I interviewed for my position and engaged university leadership around the themes of brand, branding, and marketing that I began to establish the direction of how I would handle the university’s marketing program. There were things we were going to get after. I don’t think what has followed since has surprised anyone.

But it was a choice I made in the first three months that further built momentum and helped me understand how to integrate my marketing philosophy into the context of my new university community.

Simply put, I made it a priority to get to know academic and administrative leadership across the campus. I met with deans, assistant deans, professors, directors, and vice presidents. Most of these meetings were over coffee at our campus coffee shop. Some were off campus during lunch. They were casual, very thoughtful, and invaluable. I enjoyed the time, got to know them a bit personally, and learned a lot.

I listened and learned about the institution’s identity, culture, and history with marketing and branding; and I engaged them regarding marketing, brand, admissions, etc. Working relationships and friendships were formed, and trust was birthed. There’s just no way we could have made such significant changes in the last eight months without those collaborative relationships.

However, not all agree with this approach. Some university presidents have been looking in recent years to corporate marketing leaders, who have no understanding of how things work in academia, in order to try to bring a corporate mentality and break through campus politics and coalitions.

What most of these new higher education marketing leaders learn is that to survive in higher education they have to collaborate and build coalitions. If they don’t learn to do that, eventually there will be hell to pay when they try to implement their top-down program, which won’t be embraced, and which won’t last after their departure.

It’s why some marketing leaders have no choice but to force their ideas onto the campus community. They haven’t respected campus culture by getting to know it, and they haven’t really listened to other opinions about marketing and branding on their campus.

The takeaway here is that implementing a marketing program isn’t entirely about best practices, theory or a particular creative direction. For new leaders and old, it’s about adapting marketplace knowledge and practice to the DNA of a university community. Establishing the foundation that makes that possible is an essential of new leadership.

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