Leading From Where They Stand
Submitted by Dr. Abigail Stonerock, Office of Professional Development
They arrived at the new System Office not quite sure what to expect. For pre-meeting homework, they had to read leadership articles from Harvard Business Review, review strategic planning documents from the American Association of Community Colleges and the VCCS, and complete self-assessments. As they took their seats, you could a hear a few whispers, “Are you ready for this?” followed by a bit of friendly, but nervous laughter. “We had heard that, since the Office of Professional Development redesigned this course, we needed to arrive rested and ready. The four days were going to be exhausting. Little did I know, they were also going to be life changing!” said Dixie Dalton, dean of humanities, social sciences, and business at Southside Virginia Community College.
The Chancellor’s Faculty and Administrators Leadership Academy is an intense, immersive four-day leadership development course designed for rising VCCS leaders seeking positions of greater responsibility. Attendees are nominated to participate by their president. A significant investment in time and talent, the course reflects best practices in leadership development benchmarked from some of the world’s most respected programs, including UPS, McDonalds, USAA, Proctor and Gamble, Harvard, West Point, and more. Among those best practices: setting expectations, recruiting the right faculty, and delivering a “stretch course.”
“When we were told to turn cell phones off and dial in to the course, the content, the context, and our colleagues, I thought, ‘no way.’ It was the best thing that could have happened. It elevated the learning ten-fold. Suddenly, we were all present for each other, a true community of learners and leaders. In retrospect, I’m not sure how they convinced us to do that, but it worked,” said Jerry Stinson II, program director, administration of justice, Southwest Virginia Community College.
With an overt challenge for every participant to lead from where they stand, this course proved once again that leadership is about action, not position.
The curriculum included courses on fundraising, legislative affairs, power and persuasion, transformational leadership, networking activities with system office leaders, leading difficult change, student success, crisis communication, and executive leadership to name a few. Bringing the curriculum alive were a faculty including the chancellor, state board members, presidents, vice chancellors/assistant vice chancellors, vice presidents, and many more. Said State Board member Robin Sullenberger, “The Executive Leadership panel was the last day of the course, right before lunch. I expected people to be tired and ready to go home. Boy, was I mistaken! I have never seen such energy, excitement, and engagement in the final hours of a class. It was fantastic.”
With a renewed focus on the community college mission, this course is a stark reminder that great leaders don’t set out to be leaders, they set out to make a difference.
At graduation, participants received both a certificate and a book from the Chancellor’s Professional Reading List called Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. One graduate, Mimi Getachew, a counselor at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, said about the experience, “We were challenged from the start to ask why, and to begin with the end in mind. So, today isn’t really an ending, but a new beginning. Likewise, this certificate is less a reward, and more a commitment to continuous learning, to each other, and to advancing the institution to the best of each of our abilities.”
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