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Building Leadership Communities – Examples from the Field

by Greg Anderson

It is a fundamental principle that leadership in today’s higher education environment must be collective, concurrent, and collaborative.  To make that happen, campuses need to create, nurture, and sustain communities in which leaders at all levels can be successful. On day three of the 2013 MOR IT Leaders conference, the morning session focused on building and sustaining leadership communities. Stanford University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Minnesota each described their approach to building these vitally important community environments.  

Each campus catalyzed their community through different approaches, and each now has traction that is instrumental in changing behaviors and sustaining leadership growth   Although each university’s approach differed, key strategies and benefits common to all three included:

  • Recognizing and leveraging the power of groups
  • Extending networks and influence
  • Providing a trusted environment for social and supportive engagement
  • Creating a community platform to achieve cross-campus results
  • Creating an atmosphere for groups to partner on areas of shared interest
  • Sharing and reinforcing knowledge
  • Reinforcing the concept of leading from wherever you are

On each campus MOR leadership program participants contributed to community building. The efforts at each of the campuses to nurture and fuel the growth and advancement of their communities were influenced by their ITLP participation that provided a common language and perspective on leadership. Common activities at the three institutions included regular meetings and social gatherings to reinforce leadership skills, to share knowledge, and to deepen relationships among participants.  Beyond the specific content of any activity, the underlying social interactions enhanced alignment and collaboration across campus.

Stanford’s leadership community evolved from its large pool of MOR leadership program participants, including multiple ITLP program cohorts and participants from their on-campus Technical Leaders Program. As these leaders came forward with ideas for community development, Stanford leadership gave them approval, authority, and resources to pursue their activities. At the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota, their approach was to develop frameworks, processes, roles, and communication channels for forming cross-organizational sub-groups and formal communities of practice. 

Following the leadership principle of leading from wherever you are, the presenters encouraged initiative and creativity by their community members through endorsement and support.  Nancy Ware of Stanford said that she concluded that her leadership role was “to get out of the way!”  Senior leaders should invest in the trust generated through their communities and “let go” so that leaders from all levels can step up.

The session sparked additional contributions from audience members who have already created or were planning to create similar communities on their own campuses. With over 2,000 participants who have been through MOR leadership experiences, there exists today a critical mass of leadership talent and energy ready to anticipate and meet the disruptive challenges facing higher education.  These collaborative leadership communities are essential for success in the changing context of higher education.