Magazine article University Business

Transitions Require a Positive Outlook: A University President Faces Higher Ed Challenges by Focusing on What's Working

Magazine article University Business

Transitions Require a Positive Outlook: A University President Faces Higher Ed Challenges by Focusing on What's Working

Article excerpt

I became president of Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, in July.

A long-established private university proud of its mission and compelled to deliver the kind of education our community and world desperately need, Capital was on the cusp of something great. The university is in transition--in a good way--and that likely is the new normal given the dynamic challenges facing many higher ed institutions now.

Surely, administrators today must enter the field with eyes wide open and be nimble on their feet. The intensifying drumbeat of challenge and even despair facing increasing numbers of higher ed institutions triggers justified alertness to signs of institutional weakness and financial softening. Leaders are naturally inclined to transition with the mindset of a diagnostician looking for problems to solve, weaknesses to strengthen and broken systems to fix--actions that are necessary for achieving a sustainable path.

It's unintentional, but the negativity and anxiety cast by that approach are very real, and it misses the opportunity to build relationships and momentum by acknowledging what's working--by lifting up and building on what's good.

Mindful of this challenge, in approaching my new responsibilities at Capital, I have drawn on my early roots in community development for transition guidance. How shall I transition to a new higher education community, exercising sharp attention to risk factors while at the same time identifying and encouraging the positive energy that is critical to enacting institutional change and advancement?

Accentuating the positive

Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer had it right in their 1944 tune, "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive." Borrowing from community development approaches like asset mapping and appreciative inquiry, leaders can "latch on to the affirmative" so as to "eliminate the negative."

Asset mapping guides community leaders in leveraging their transition to explore untapped potential and unseen connections. Seeking the talents of community members, iconic triumphs and accomplishments, virtues of the institutional culture, and signs of care and commitment reconnects the learning community with the mission that fuels the organization's past, present and future. …

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