4 SearchTop2.4 Mentoring women junior faculty3 Leadership

3 Mentoring for Academic Leadership


Maria Klawe (Chair)

President, Harvey Mudd College
Leah Jamieson John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering
Purdue University
2007 President and CEO, IEEE
Jeanne Ferrante Associate Dean
University of California, San Diego
Eve Riskin Associate Dean
University of Washington

Academic leadership has its joys and perils, but the rewards can far outweigh the penalties and current and future faculty should seriously consider leadership opportunities in their career path. This chapter considers the nature of leadership, as well as its obstacles, dangers, rewards, and tradeoffs along with a little advice. Examples of various paths to leadership are described.

3.1 What is leadership?

There are many flavors of leadership for academics. Perhaps the most familiar are the well known positions in academic administration, including the positions of department chair or head, dean, provost, and president, along with variations of these positions with qualifiers like associate, assistant, and vice. But leadership is not restricted to administration; other leadership positions within academia include leading research groups, from lead researcher on small teams to directors of programs and centers. Professional societies offer a variety of leadership positions, including boards of governors and executive officers. Some academics become leaders in government agencies and entrepreneurial startup companies. The various skills for these positions are not the same, but they are often complementary and transfer directly. Paths to top leadership positions can take a variety of forms, as indicated by the examples given in this chapter.

3.2 Rewards of leadership

The greatest reward of leadership is the ability to have a major impact on an institution and its faculty in an area you care about. Leadership brings with it access to greater resources and leverage and the tools for making your world a better place for you and your colleagues. Such change can result in significant improvements when brought about by those who care deeply about their academic environment and are willing to expend the effort necessary to make improvements. Being able to promote and implement significant changes through curriculum reform, advancing new technologies, fostering new multidisciplinary collaborations, and expanding the focus of an institution can be exhilarating and fulfilling. Creating new programs such as the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) [8], developed at Purdue University to combine engineering education, real-world projects, and community service, can benefit a far larger community than academics usually reach. Having an influence on the future directions of academic and professional institutions by leading strategic planning can have a major positive impact on education and the profession, and some academics participate in national and international planning of major projects with potential benefits for large populations.

Taking on leadership responsibilities brings with it new kinds of learning, including the development of skills in negotiation, communication, collaboration, grant writing, mentoring, time and project management, finance, performance evaluation and people management. These skills in turn can improve our abilities as researchers and enhance our contributions to professional organizations and society. Acquiring such new knowledge and putting it into immediate practice with visible benefits can be highly satisfying.

There are often unexpected rewards, such as the joy and pride of celebrating others' successes and the pleasure in seeing yourself stretch to solve unexpected problems. (A good time to consider becoming a leader is when you are ready to celebrate the accomplishments of other people as much as you are your own.) Even the chores of fundraising can lead to unexpected pleasures when meeting alumni with amazing careers and accomplishments.

Finally, there is the perk that higher leadership brings with it increased opportunities for travel and meeting new people.

3.3 Dangers of leadership

The final reward of leadership listed above can also be a danger if there are too many opportunities for "free" lunches with people not of your choosing. But there are far more serious issues.

Paths to leadership: Jeanne Ferrante

IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
Never a manager, but had a great mentor: Fran Allen
UCSD Computer Science Professor
UCSD CS Department Chair
Developed industrial liaison program
Associate Dean
Developed Teams In Engineering Service (TIES),
part of EPICS
Autumn 2007
Acting Dean

Many academics are reluctant to take on leadership responsibilities because they see such responsibilities as a negative career move: time devoted to such service will take away time from research and students, usually the primary concerns of faculty. The paths to leadership are rarely clear and typical graduate education provides little training specifically useful to managing and leading organizations. Assuming leadership responsibilities, therefore, usually involves a steep learning curve. Women and underrepresented minorities often perceive these barriers as being greater than their male colleagues do, as they are often less confident than men about the degree to which they possess the necessary skills. For example, Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide [2] documents the gender differences in confidence in the knowledge of negotiation and in the possession of negotiation skills. Experienced mentors are familiar with the problem of lack of confidence that is common in underrepresented groups.

Leaders often devote significant time to solving other people's problems, including inherited problems and cleaning up other people's messes.

Faculty in leadership positions are often viewed differently by their peers. By joining management, faculty leaders may be thought of as having gone over to "the dark side." The independence of faculty is one of the attractions of the career, but it can make it harder for academic leaders such as department chairs and school deans to accomplish their goals. In industry, a change in policy at the top, such as setting a goal of hiring more women and underrepresented minorities, can lead to rapid change within an organization towards accomplishing the new goals. This "make it so" approach rarely works in an academic environment, where change can be slow and frustrating because of the independence of faculty governance and careful faculty committee procedures.

Unfortunately, the nature of humor can change with leadership since leaders must be more wary of what they say. Their statements can carry weight and implications beyond what they intend, and even jokes can be taken in unfortunate ways and cause offense. Especially higher in the leadership ladder, there are no casual public conversations. Campus politics among staff and faculty can be nasty and cause additional concerns and demand significant diplomacy skills.

There are additional dangers for women and underrepresented minorities in leadership positions. They have the added obstacle of facing common stereotypes, resulting in their being viewed differently in leadership positions. Valian [28][30] cites an experimental study where students were shown photographs of a group sitting at a table and asked to identify the leader of the group. When the group comprised only a single gender, then the person at the head of the table was identified as the leader. If the group was mixed gender and a man sat at the head, then he was always identified as the leader. If the group was mixed gender and a woman sat at the head, then she was labeled as the leader only about half of the time, with a man seated elsewhere being labeled as the leader the remainder of the time. These statistics were roughly the same regardless of the gender of the observer. A woman or minority leader may be viewed as a token figurehead or as being representative of all members of their gender or ethnic group, adding additional stress to the ordinary responsibilities. If you look different, questions will be asked and you will be treated as a spokesperson for your group.

Paths to leadership: Maria Klawe

IBM researcher
IBM research manager
Head of CS dept., UBC
Senior VP (IT + Students), UBC
Dean of Science, UBC
Dean of Engineering, Princeton
President, Harvey Mudd College

Unfortunately, some colleagues may feel that a woman in a leadership position is there simply because she is a woman rather than because she was the best candidate for the position. It has become true in recent years that more women are being interviewed for such positions as institutions try to provide diversity in leadership, but all current research indicates that the final hires are made on the basis of who is the best candidate. The push for diversity in institutions is aimed at ensuring diversity in the pool of candidates, not in forcing a quota on the actual hires. Offers should be based on the quality of the candidate and not on gender or ethnic considerations.

Lastly, there is a risk of the presence of a woman or minority leader being used as an excuse for downplaying gender or ethnic imbalance in a faculty using the argument that one minority representative in a leadership position should be considered as having solved the problem, when it has not.

3.4 Weighing the rewards and dangers

The upside and downside of leadership are both quite real, but the balance of opinion from the successful leaders at the workshop is that the good things far outweigh the bad things. The satisfactions and joys of having a major positive impact, of leaving an institution better than they found it, are incredible highs, and there are strategies and tricks for dealing with most of the negative aspects. Higher-level leadership positions provide a bigger playing field with more opportunities to make a difference. Furthermore, academia is about reinventing yourself and leadership does just that. It gives you the greatest possible opportunities to make a difference by initiating and guiding projects to improve academe and its impact and visibility. It also provides a different way in which to be creative. In most cases effective leaders find the leverage to achieve positive change is a good tradeoff with the grunge that comes with the job.

Some of the drawbacks of leadership can be eased by careful planning. With discipline, a department chair or even a dean can maintain a research program, and at most universities a high quality research program is more important to your career than teaching. A common approach is to set aside and protect a specific day a week for research. Teaching can be done when it fulfills a strategic goal such as covering a class that can benefit from your personal handling and the attention of a chair or dean. The difficulty of moving projects forward can be handled by building a consensus and seeking broad support. Dealing with unjust and inaccurate critics can be handled by concentrating on those who support you. Concentrate on the positives and do not dwell on the inevitable unhelpful sniping. Some people find it helpful to have a trusted friend or mentor to whom they can vent when things become noticeably stressful or people are behaving particularly badly.

3.5 Paths to leadership

Paths to leadership: Eve Riskin

Appointed Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering
University of Washington
Promoted to Associate Professor at UW
Promoted to Professor at UW
Appointed Director, ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change, UW
Appointed Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Engineering, UW

Most academics end up being leaders in some form as part of their job. Some examples are viewed as chores -- necessary service as part of being a good citizen -- and others involve actively seeking a leadership role to promote some project or change of personal interest. The typical beginning stages are leading a research group or chairing a committee. The research group might comprise only the professor and a collection of students, but it might also be a larger group involving multiple faculty, students, and staff. Typically one of the professors takes the lead, often by default because the others in the project are narrowly focused on their part only and would rather let someone else handle the big picture and overall organization. This latter talent is a sign of potential leadership -- an interest in stepping back from the individual pieces to view the overall project, to stitch the pattern together and make things happen. You may recognize new talents and interests in yourself in these initial steps towards leadership.

Symptoms of an inclination for leadership include liking to solve problems or make a place better, and finding yourself working on things even when it's not really your job. Keep in mind, however, that at research universities the primary requirement for advancement is a solid reputation for research. Beware of time consuming diversions before you have established a high quality research program. The degree of risk of such tangents varies among universities, but there is always risk in not devoting a critical mass of time to research at the early career stages.

Being chair of a committee can come from either just taking a turn at it, or from a personal interest in the goal of the committee and the realization that the chair can guide the deliberations and have a major influence on the results. Being a committee chair also carries with it a hint of power, as the chair can set the schedule as well as guide the agenda, which can be a big advantage for personal time management.

At times, opportunities for leadership can arise by surprise when someone is acting like a leader without being aware of it. As an example, Eve Riskin of the University of Washington was an active participant in the NSF ADVANCE center at UW, of which the Dean of Engineering, Denice Denton, was PI. Eve did not consider herself a leader, but she often was one of the first to respond to email from Denice seeking ideas and advice, and Eve agreed to serve on a search committee for a director of the center. The committee did their work and found two excellent candidates, but neither worked out for a variety of reasons. At that point both the remainder of the search committee and Denice realized they already had the ideal candidate in their midst, and offered the position to Eve. Her passion, participation, and activity made her a clear choice to everyone but herself, and she accepted because of the opportunities to have a significant impact on issues that mattered a great deal to her. She quickly learned the job and later was made an Associate Dean based largely on her performance as a center director. Most opportunities for leadership do not fall out of the sky like this one, but are a result of conscious choices made along the way in response both to your interests and to opportunities. Different choices can result in quite different paths towards leadership.

In general, it is a good idea, and quite typical, to start with a small taste of leadership when the opportunity arises. This strategy provides an opportunity for a trial run and a chance to see how the benefits balance the time involved. Such beginnings can come about by invitation (and often do), but they can also be sought out by talking to academic leaders about the possibilities of assisting with ongoing or new projects.

Leadership becomes an increasingly important component of an academic career after securing tenure; however, a moderate amount of experience as a junior faculty member can help build a skill set for leadership and test an aptitude and inclination in a manageable way. It is not a good idea to jump into a major leadership position without a warmup to learn the ropes and gain the experience to grow into more critical positions. In particular, do not become a department chair or director until you are tenured. At most institutions, you should not accept such a position until you are a full professor, as chairs and directors risk making enemies.

Choices regarding leadership will arise throughout your career, and the several examples of paths to leadership boxed in this chapter demonstrate a few of the possibilities. While each path is unique, a few general observations can be made. First, these are paths that led to the upper echelons of leadership, but most of us will rise only part way up this ladder and eventually return to an emphasis on research and teaching. You must gauge your own aptitudes and passions in the early stages when making your decisions.

One critical decision will be how long you should continue in a given position. If things go well, opportunities for a higher position may arise naturally and present a clear path for advancement. Furthermore, serving too long in a single position runs the risk of its being identified with you too strongly and can make it difficult for a program to advance when you are no longer there. If things are not going well, do not abandon the effort too soon. Resigning from a position may mean that no further high positions are offered to you, and even if you are not happy, you still may be able to accomplish important goals -- and you will learn from the experience. It is better to move from an unhappy position into a parallel or higher position than to resign. If you enjoy constant contact with students and faculty, beware of positions that leave you little time and isolate you. Be aware that your potential impact can diminish with time, and it will be greatest if you come in as an accomplished outsider with the high hopes and expectations of the faculty. The more you are considered a long-time part of the organization, the less likely major change becomes. On the other hand, the good thing about being in a place for a long time is that you know the contexts for why things are the way they are. This means you must be more aggressive about making sure you change the things that need to be changed.

Paths to leadership: Leah Jamieson

Appointed Assistant Professor at Purdue
Research group lead
ECE Graduate Program Director
Co-founder & Co-director/Director,
EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service)
President, IEEE Signal Processing Society
ECE Interim Head
IEEE Vice-President for Technical Activities
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education
IEEE Vice-President for Publication Services & Products
Dean of Engineering
IEEE President & CEO

When considering a change in your position, do not look only at the best and most successful programs. Leading these may enhance your reputation, but your potential for significant impact may be small. Often an individual can have the maximum impact leading a less famous or even broken program, where the possibility exists for major advancement and growth in stature. Provided that the position brings with it sufficient resources and leverage, growing a young and enthusiastic faculty and integrating them into the development and strategic planning of the program as a meritocracy can reap huge benefits. The best position may not be the one promoted by your best friends, the strongest challenge may lie elsewhere. If you do go to a highly successful program, then expect to find change more difficult and your marginal impact less. You can still have an impact, but the required approach is likely to be different. For example, you can distribute high praise among the faculty, but then suggest ways in which the wonderful program might be made even more wonderful. Again, it takes participation and teamwork to effect positive change; you cannot do it alone.

Often the first group that tries to create change will run into horrible resistance, and yet a few years later someone else can propose essentially the same ideas and everyone will get on board. People sometimes oppose things they know are right simply based on the person proposing it, and when the idea later resurfaces with a new promoter it gains acceptance. It is more effective and fun being in the second wave. Think carefully about when you want to make your move, and remember that it is much easier to change the system as a senior person with external credibility. With determination, you will succeed, but you should always consider how much effort you want to expend to achieve a particular goal at a particular point in your life.

When considering moves during poor economic times, keep in mind that some "hot" areas will provide far more opportunities in funding and resources. They might not be precisely your area, but often the skills required have a huge overlap with other areas, including yours, and you can fit the bill by a shift in emphasis or application without a shift in basic skills. The recent move of many academics in signal processing to bioengineering provides an example.

It should also be pointed out that, as the separate examples of leadership paths in this chapter attest, there are many paths to senior leadership. Of the first four women deans of engineering at at the leading research (R1) universities (Denice Denton at UW, Kristina Johnson at Duke University, Janie Fouke at Michigan State, and Ilene Busch-Visniac at Johns Hopkins University), none of them served as department chairs.

3.6 Leadership strategies

The beginning stages of leadership often do not require any special training, though some of the day-to-day skills of budgets, time management, planning, and dealing with people on cooperative projects are often developed early in an academic career. As one moves up the leadership ladder, however, formal learning of leadership skills can be a major advantage and save a great deal of time in the long run. The most common sources of such education are mentors -- senior leaders with significant experience who are grooming a new generation for future positions. Formal training in workshops and seminars, and books and web sites devoted to leadership issues are also useful. The learning can be clustered into two types: the fundamentals of leadership which provide basic principles and views of successful leaders, and the tricks of the trade that are often anecdotal in nature, but which provide gems of tactics for managing the attendant chores and responsibilities with humor and good sense. A few examples of each are mentioned in this section.

Approaches to leadership

There are many models for leadership and a great deal of training material on the Web and in books. An example is the VRE training of Frank Green [12]. The acronym refers to the basic components of leadership:

Leadership means leading a group of people toward some goal, which requires a vision of where the group is going and for what it is striving.
Leadership means leading people, and that requires understanding what relationships are needed to achieve the vision, and building relationships.
Leadership involves implementing the details of the plans and ensuring the execution that actually achieves the vision.

These separate components and their integration form the basis of this approach to leadership training.

Another overview of leadership is provided in the book Leadership Without Easy Answers, by Ronald A. Heifetz [13]. Heifetz makes the distinction between solving strictly technical problems, which can be done by expertise alone, and solving adaptive problems such as global warming and drug abuse, which demand innovative solutions. The basic strategies can be summarized as follows:

As the challenges of leadership are becoming more complex with a greater reliance on interdependent work, the nature of leadership is changing as the emphasis shifts from the heroic individual to collective teamwork [18]. The primary skillset is increasingly requiring flexibility, especially the ability to collaborate across boundaries, teamwork, the building and mending of relationships, and innovation in managing change. The best preparation for the future is the development of "right-brain" skills and a willingness to take on new and broad challenges. Finding a mentor who practices this style can be an invaluable asset.

Advice on leadership

Leading within academia is not just budgets and strategic planning; it depends more than ever on building consensus and relationships among colleagues. Goals are achieved not by fiat, but by an understanding of the barriers and an ability to move people toward a common goal. The lofty goals can get somewhat lost in the details of administration, so it is useful to point out some aspects of leadership and offer some advice on handling them.


A daily aspect of leadership is the necessity to make decisions involving matters of finance, personnel, startup funding, space, facilities, human resources, building. You just do it. You make your best effort to consider what is in the best interests of with whom and for whom you work, and then do it. You revisit decisions when you have to. Decisions must be made in a timely fashion. No one else will make them for you.


Communication can be the most difficult thing for people in high leadership positions. Colleagues will often not tell the difficult truth to a Dean or President, and that can mean a lack of adequate feedback for crucial decisions. So work at opening communication channels with colleagues and staff, for example, by regular informal meetings or lunches or "conversations with the Dean." Also take advantage of feedback from the students and the junior faculty, who are often less fearful of the high powers of academia and more willing to provide honest opinions.

Team building

Do not try to do big things on your own. You need to build teams and share the load and the participation. Ideally, everyone on the team becomes a leader.

Crisis management

Crises will occur on an almost daily basis, and by definition their nature will be a surprise. You can plan on their occurrence, however, and budget time for dealing with the surprise issues that arise and must be handled immediately. Doing so lessens the surprise and the stress involved and they will seem less of a disruption. A half hour is usually sufficient time to do a triage and move the crisis on to the next step along the path, hopefully turning it into someone else's problem in the process.

Defining success

Do not drive yourself crazy by mourning the loss of your research and teaching time. You cannot maintain your research output at its previous level when you accept major leadership responsibilities. You can, however, redefine your personal success to give yourself credit for other accomplishments, which often will have a more far reaching impact on your institution and the outside world. Your success should not depend on research productivity alone.

Becoming a better leader

The following are several nuggets of advice for being an effective leader that emerged during the workshop.

"If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It's much easier to apologize than it is to get permission." Grace Murray Hopper, computer pioneer

3.7 Mentoring for leadership

One of the responsibilities for leaders is to help others become leaders, and all of the academic leaders who participated in the workshop cited key examples of their mentors in their professional growth. Encourage anyone with an issue to become part of the solution. Recognize and reward leadership within your institution, as positive feedback goes a long way. You can encourage others to become leaders by discovering what they are passionate about and encouraging them to focus on those passions to effect change. Give advice freely, but do not expect it to be taken! And encourage, encourage, encourage.

Often potential leaders will lack confidence in their ability to lead, a feeling often associated with the "imposter syndrome" of highly talented people not believing that they are as good as their resume proves them to be (see, e.g., Chapter 4 of [23]). Such people may require particularly encouraging mentoring on the part of those that recognize more ability and potential in them than they may recognize in themselves. Women who succeed sometimes do so because they "ignore reality" and do not let their own negative self-perception get in the way.

3.8 Diversity in leadership

Women and members of underrepresented minorities in leadership roles make the leadership teams to which they belong more heterogeneous, and research shows that the quality of innovation of a team is a function of the diversity of the team -- the more ideas and varieties of experience, the better the solutions.

November 15, 2007

4 SearchTop2.4 Mentoring women junior faculty3 Leadership