Taking the Helm: Anne Skleder Reflects on Her First 30 Days as President of Brenau University
Brenau University recently named Dr. Anne Skleder their tenth president. She is the first female president in the university’s 140-year history. Dr. Skleder reflects on her first few months as president and the journey that brought her here.
The role is a natural extension of her successful academic career, but not one she originally sought. Skleder reflects, “I have been fortunate that my career has prepared me for this role, although until a few years ago I had never imagined I might be a university president.” A social and organizational psychologist by training, Skleder was initially introduced to academia as a faculty member and later department chair. Throughout her career, she has grown through the investment of others. She recalls, “I had incredible mentors and supervisors who presented me with opportunities to learn and grow in critical areas of enrollment (recruitment and retention), student affairs, strategic planning, international initiatives, community engagement, and friend and fund-raising. Each of these experiences has given me the tools and the confidence to take this most recent step.
Skleder notes that working with an executive search firm helped in manifold ways, from alerting her to the position in the first place, to understanding the interview process. “It was a great gift,” she shares.
Skleder is proud to serve as the first female president of Brenau. She sees a growing openness to and expectation for women to serve in all levels of leadership. Skleder explains, “if not now, when? The opportunities are out there. Institutions are looking to ensure their search pools are more diverse and represent their institutional composition better. The challenges, I believe, lie in understanding what it takes to succeed in the role, preparing oneself, and being open to advice. And search consultants really help with these things, well before one is searching.”
A leader of a university must learn before she can lead. Skleder has made this a top priority as she’s stepped into the presidency. She shares, “with the help of fantastic mentors, a top-notch chief of staff, and a great transition team, my first 30 days have been focused on launching a listening and learning tour including all constituencies.”
She advises those who aspire to leadership not only to think about where they want to go, but who can get them there. Skleder shares, “identify true mentors who are willing to give constructive criticism and point out when you are headed in the wrong direction. We have family and friends to love us unconditionally and praise us; a true mentor balances this encouragement with very helpful and direct criticism and suggestions.” With a strong team to guide you, you can seek out added responsibility. Skleder advises, “I think it is crucial to take the steps necessary to have experiences that will prepare you to lead in positions of increasing authority before you are fully responsible, and to not skip steps to arrive more quickly at a more senior position. That's a recipe for disaster. If you are aiming for long-term success, avoid being flattered into skipping steps.” Finally, she reminds us that mission matters. She shares, “always look for opportunities to work at institutions that have missions so compelling to you that you would do any job there, not just because a particular leadership position is open and you want that position. Mission match is critical.”