You’ve heard me tout the importance of face-to-face connections, and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) annual convention in April provided ample opportunity for that. Seeing dear colleagues and friends always recharges my energy and renews my commitment to our shared mission.
This year also provided me with the chance to meet new and up-and-coming leaders and I was so pleased to welcome them to AACC. These new leaders were no surprise. In fact, for many years I have been reporting on the number of leadership transitions within our community colleges and we have all read the many articles on the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age. At the AACC convention there were books for sale and sessions focused on the Generation X leaders. The time has come for the next generation of leadership.
So, how do they prepare to take on these leadership roles? The community college president faces unprecedented internal and external pressures and scrutiny. Budget revenues that fluctuate despite student needs, increased examination from the community and local press, and increased complex regulatory demands from state and federal legislatures are just a few of the challenges we face as college leaders. One of our most important roles, however, is the responsibility that we have to ensure the next generation of leaders is prepared to take up the challenges and succeed.
A helping hand
Without mentoring and leadership development programs, I know that I would not have enjoyed the many opportunities afforded to me throughout my career. One of my most cherished roles is that of mentor and I have never regretted providing leadership development to others. In fact, I think it is incumbent upon each of us to pay it forward and provide mentorship, training, leadership development classes, support of advanced degree attainment, etc.—whatever it takes to build the skill set of a new leader.
One of my proudest accomplishments is seeing the 28 former deans, directors, vice presidents and assistant presidents who have worked for me now as successful presidents and chancellors. I understand that this may require investing both time and money. I have heard many times that shrinking budgets and busy schedules make it difficult to rationalize the investment in professional development— especially if that investment will result in a valued leader leaving your organization to become a college president somewhere else. Your investment will pay off for them but will leave you with a vacant position and fewer resources at your disposal. I get it. We have all been there.
But, we have also been aspiring leaders. We have all benefited from learning how to be a leader. We may have taken different paths and learned in different ways, but someone invested in us. Community colleges on the whole have benefitted from the notion that current leaders value and invest in the next generation. Leading our community colleges is a complex job that pays off when students achieve their goals. Our students deserve nothing less than leaders who will continue to aspire toward removing barriers to that achievement, and it is up to us to ensure that the legacy of student success is carried into the future.