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As a New College or University President, Make Sure to Be There for Your Constituencies - By Cheryl

Congratulations. A university or college has hired you as president. This is your first higher-education presidency, and they expect you “yesterday”. Consider following this road map as you think about where to start first during your initial three months on campus.

Take a grand tour of the campus. Make this one of the first items after you arrive on campus. This tour will help you establish your sense of physical context--where your office is located and the office of the individuals you’ll soon begin working with, auditoriums, class rooms, and the like. Doing so will allay any confusion about getting around and where you need to head for various functions on campus.

Arrange for a listening tour with direct reports. Meeting with these key individuals follows next. You’ll want to meet with everyone who’s a direct report to you so they can get to know you and you can do the same. Listen and appreciate their perspectives on their positions and needs, how you can best help them and how they will best help you. This will give you a sense of their strengths and how your strengths may complement theirs. This last point will save you time and trouble over the long term.

Arrange for give-and-take sessions with your vice presidents and cabinet members for input, especially about:

  • Where to apply your strengths in your presidential mission,

  • Areas where you may be less strong and what you may need to strengthen,

  • Forces that could obstruct or damage your presidency,

  • Address low-hanging fruit--opportunities to address and convert to achievements that are low in cost or non-costly and that you can accomplish quickly.

Meet with the chair person and vice chair of the board, board members, and key donors.

Meet with all-important board members either in small-group sessions or with individuals if the board is small enough. These meetings comprise your first step to establishing sound relations with the individuals who will guide you and support you and the mission of your school. Seek input on critical issues from the chair and vice chair of the board with their recommendations. Donors want a sense of the level of your care and commitment, your continued appreciation of their support, and if needed, your institution’s need for greater monetary support.

Build your personal visibility by attending campus events. The people under you, with you, and over you need to develop a continuing sense of your support. You can underline this with your presence as you join in on events with the people who stage and participate in campus events. In this way, you’ll continue to project yourself as a president who cares about the individuals who make things happen on campus. Those who observe you will value your presence and demonstrated commitment as president.

Woody Allen was once quoted as saying, “Ninety percent of life is showing up.” This rings especially true for a new president.

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