Advice and Perspective from Top Women Leaders in Education

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Pursuing advanced education can be challenging enough. To return and ‘give back’ as a leader in that same community is not just a career, it is a vocation.

We interviewed eight women in leadership positions in the field of higher education to kick-start our Industry of the Month focus on Education. Each shared her unique perspective on motivation, creative thinking, essential leadership skills, and where the field of education is headed.

The field of higher education has changed significantly over the last few decades, but true leadership isn’t led by trends.

Though networking once happened in person-to-person contact, it now occurs globally not just locally and electronically not just in person-to-person and, in spite of the method, it remains an integral key to building a strong support network of peers and mentors alike.

On every level of networking and interacting with others is a chance to develop solid people skills and collaborate effectively. As cliché as it is, playing well with others is important at all ages. Just as networking and positive collaboration is vital to one’s career, being open to learning opportunities and practicing good listening skills are cornerstones for successful leadership.

These two elements of openness set a leader up to take in, process, and respond in ways that cannot happen with merely being accepting and aware initially. With all that goes on around leaders and in their communities, the qualities within are just as paramount to advancement.

Guarding your own integrity while preserving your own belief in yourself is an inner motivation, while dreams, goals, and inspiration fuel you from outside. All this benefits from perseverance and determination. All these qualities, and more, are characteristics of a successful leader.

But don’t just take our word for it, let’s hear what our leaders in education have to say.

Let’s meet our eight leaders…

Suzanne Carter, MBA, Ph.D.
Executive Director of the EMBA program and Professor of Professional Practice in Strategy
Texas Christian University (TCU). Fort Worth, TX, USA

Maria Klawe, B.Sc., Ph.D.
President
Harvey Mudd College. Claremont, CA, USA

Mary Jo Larkin, S.S.J., M.A., M.S.
Dean for Library and Information Resources
Chestnut Hill College. Philadelphia, PA, USA

Mary Ellen O’Keeffe, Ed.D.
Interim Vice Chancellor for Education, Research and Planning
Seattle Colleges. Seattle, WA, USA

Shirley C. Raines, Ed.D.
President Emeritus, retired after 12 years as president.
Spending time now as Author, Consultant, and Speaker.

University of Memphis. Oak Ridge, TN, USA

L.A. Smith, MA
Director, Online Marketing, Michael G. Foster School of Business
University of Washington. Seattle, WA, USA

Rebel Smith, Ed.D.
Director of Recruitment and Enrollment Management for
Online and Distance Education Programs

University of Arkansas. Fayetteville, AR, USA

Jennifer Williams Taylor
Director
Avalon College Advising. San Francisco and Silicon Valley, CA, USA
(Formerly: COO of Presidio Graduate School)

Now, let’s hear what these women had to say to our four questions. The responses are their words entirely. We didn’t plan the responses or edit them, at all.

What motivates you?

Suzanne Carter: Knowing that I am making a difference to others through the work that I do and the choices that I make. Having an internal compass that tells you that is one thing, but getting external validation is also very important.

So hearing from students who take my class, or go through our EMBA program, that the concepts that they learn in our classrooms make a difference to them in their ability to be effective in their jobs and improve their businesses’ successes motivates me tremendously.

Maria Klawe: I want to see learning and work environments become more inclusive so that everyone feels supported and encouraged independent of race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else.

Mary Jo Larkin: A rewarding future for the students I meet daily is incredible motivation that impels me to find the most useful information resources for them and to teach them information seeking skills that will equip them for a lifetime.

Mary Ellen O’Keeffe: Education changes lives, having the opportunity to work in a system that supports students to reach their goals is highly motivating. In the United States, we have a community college system that is open access. Students can earn two- and four-year degrees and certificates.

Shirley Raines: I am people-oriented and goal-motivated to help others, particularly women and leaders in non-profit organizations.

L.A. Smith: The opportunity to tell great stories in interesting and dynamic ways.

Rebel Smith: Many Arkansans have attended college yet have no degree, or were never able to start in the first place. I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact that college benefits both the student and his or her family.

In my current position, working with the University of Arkansas’ online programs, I am able to share opportunities with prospective students that didn’t exist previously.

Our online programs are affordable and many of the classes are taught by the same faculty who teach on-campus. Students who have always wanted to finish their degree or who always wanted to be a Razorback, now can, regardless of where they live. Admission standards are still in place.

We have over 30 online degree programs: four bachelor’s, 16 master’s, two ed specialists, four doctoral, and six certificates.

I have worked on-campus for 17 years, with nearly 10 being in admissions. With online programs, I have no geographical boundaries. I love being able to talk to a student who lives in a rural area over four hours away from Fayetteville about the possibility of attending the University of Arkansas.

I believe so strongly in higher education; with online opportunities, everyone can attend.

Jennifer W. Taylor: Working with high school students to both optimize their potential and pre-empt marginalize potential. I’m really excited to be working closely with all types of high schools and student populations to help students navigate the college admission process.

How do you encourage creative thinking from your team and school community?

Suzanne Carter: It is often the case in the academic world that we are taught to become experts, and we become such experts that we can sometimes mistakenly look around the room and think that we alone can come up with the best solutions to particular problems. But I find that that is far from the truth.

Getting people in a room together to think through a problem allows us to see many different perspectives and solutions, and almost always provides a better outcome than if we sit in our offices and pontificate privately on how to solve a problem.

I once thought that meetings were a waste of time until I realized that the agendas for meetings needed to always include something that would allow brainstorming and idea generation.

Passive information flow can happen effectively through other means, such as emails, or phone calls. But problem solving is best done with several heads in the game.

Maria Klawe: We encourage the expression of diverse points of view and perspectives, and listen to everyone, independent of role or status.

Mary Jo Larkin: Enthusiasm for the work at hand is contagious.  Our team of librarians are creative, intelligent professionals.  We spark one another to try new ideas and refine old ones.

Mary Ellen O’Keeffe: I provide opportunities for employees, staff, and faculty to attend conferences and workshops where they are exposed to new ways of doing things. I also encourage employees to take risks and try new approaches.

Shirley Raines: I encourage creative thinking through brainstorming, examining ideas from other similar organizations, and group reading influencers, but mostly looking at problems from various angles, and accepting and implementing ideas from any member of the group.

L.A. Smith: I like to start projects with conversations about all the things we might do, and focus on the practicalities of what we can do after all the big ideas have been freed from their cages.

Rebel Smith: I choose smart, competent team members. When a new problem or project arises, I know I can give it to them and they will figure it out. Ask for ideas and then listen. Show appreciation and value their opinions.

Mean what you say. Don’t say you are a team and then dictate and direct. I work best when my supervisor trusts me, openly communicates, supports me/backs me up and shows appreciation for my efforts. Therefore, that’s what I try to do for my team.

Jennifer W. Taylor: Listening. Opening up group discussion. Providing a safe environment of trust that allows for free flow of ideas. Welcoming, with consistency, differing thoughts and approaches.

What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

Suzanne Carter: Be true to yourself. We tend to think that there is a one size fits all solution to leadership. But this is far from the case. Look to see what others that you admire have done in similar roles, but if it is not what you see yourself doing, it is not likely to be as effective.

Maria Klawe: Reach out to others who have been successful in similar roles and ask for their advice when you face challenges. Get (and listen to) feedback from the people in your group and your peers. If you run into serious problems, work with a leadership/executive coach.

Mary Jo Larkin: You are a facilitator who observes and listens to find the best in your team and to encourage it to flourish for the good of the organization.  You don’t have to do it all yourself!

Mary Ellen O’Keeffe: In order to be an effective leader you need to have followers so it is important to develop teams and empower others to set high goals. It’s important to develop a vision with your team so that you have a picture of where you want to be in the future.

Shirley Raines: Become a good listener, act with confidence, “hug” your critics, give credit to your team and, by all means, be yourself, not your title.

L.A. Smith: Listen. No single communication tool is more important to a good leader than the ability and willingness to be still, and listen to the people who work for you and to your peers, especially the ones who disagree with you.

Rebel Smith: Listen – even when you are really good in your field or area, you still have so much to learn from others. Identify an individual you admire. Pay particular attention to how he or she interacts with others, leads a meeting, accomplishes tasks, etc.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t taking chances. Be bold but never disrespectful; understand the hierarchy of power within which you work.

Treat everyone with courtesy; the person answering the phone now may be the one you are collaborating with in the future, and he or she will remember. And never stop learning.

Jennifer W. Taylor: Actively listen. If available and affordable complete the Myers Briggs assessment for yourself and others on your team.

Where do you see the field of education heading in the future?

Suzanne Carter: We will spend much more time helping people to understand relationships and connections, and how to best build effective solutions to problems and much less time teaching content.

Computers have filled a void for us in regard to gaining content knowledge. But managing the people behind what needs to be done with that knowledge will always be a human issue.

Knowing how to do that will become more difficult as less time is spent in community with others. We need to adjust our teaching to those needs.

Maria Klawe: Creating more inclusive learning environments, encouraging learners to have a “growth mindset” (as defined by Carol Dweck at Stanford) where hard work and persistence are more important than “natural ability”.

Mary Jo Larkin: Propelled by technology, education can defy boundaries.  However, we must be aware that, at the same time, the digital divide widens, denying access to many who are unable to afford it.

Educators must remind those who can to help alleviate this very serious complication. The work of education demands that we educators stay ahead of the changes that arrive more quickly than ever before.

Mary Ellen O’Keeffe: The delivery of education needs to keep up with the changes in the workplace so that students are prepared for the jobs of the future.

Online learning is growing in response to the needs of the students/workers for flexible delivery of classes. Educational institutions need to build strong partnerships with employers and the community.

Shirley Raines: Education is rapidly gaining in depth, need to know more to solve complex problems and in from cradle to grave.

L.A. Smith: I think education will continue to grow and change with emerging technology. As much as people thirst for entertainment,  I believe they hunger for more knowledge and skills.

I can imagine a sort of “Netflix University” where people binge on multimedia courseware in specific subjects to sharpen skills.

Rebel Smith: Online! Much of our target population consists of full-time working professionals, or those who don’t live near a college or university. These individuals need high-quality online programs.

Many have busy lives, kids in multiple activities, and aren’t able to attend an on-campus, evening program. They either never finished their bachelor’s degree or are needing an advanced degree to move up or remain competitive in their field.

I also see more competency-based degrees being available as well as those offering credit for previous work experience. More and more programs/schools will offer five to eight-week sessions, rather than semester-based and you will be able to start whenever you want.

Jennifer W. Taylor: Organizations like Yes, We Code and work-based learning programs will help to fill the gap of needed skills in the workforce.

As with any field, things change, but how people interact as a team and in leadership roles is rooted in humanity.

What would your answers have been to these questions?

Thank you to Dr. Suzanne Carter of TCU, Dr. Maria Klawe of Harvey Mudd College, Sr. Mary Jo Larkin of Chestnut Hill College, Dr. Mary Ellen O’Keeffe of Seattle Colleges, Dr. Shirley C. Raines of University of Memphis, L.A. Smith of University of Washington, Rebel Smith of University of Arkansas, and Jennifer W. Taylor of Williams Taylor Consulting.

Your time, wisdom and thoughtfulness is very much appreciated. We are honored you participated in this interview. Best wishes for a wonderful 2015-16 academic year!

Throughout the month of August, we will share posts about leaders in our Industry of the Month focus – Education – and how school departments and alumni associations overcome common obstacles and use Teamwork Projects and Teamwork Desk to get stuff done and work better together.

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9 Comments

Marianna Velma

The particular success associated with knowledge will start in your house (as very well because any individual who would like it). The idea will start with all the Childs’ upbringing as well as the anxious value inserted from the mother or father and/or mother or father…

Reply
Jacy Chain

They are skilled and experienced, no doubt about that. Their advance and guidelines must be followed. Some of them are providing great opportunities for employees, staff. Thanks a lot to making this and shared with us.

Reply
Jimmy Marshall

Well said Evin!

This post is really amazing and inspires us as well. These are superstar leaders and qualified too. Thanks for sharing this with us. I’ll definitely visit it again with some new readers.

Reply
Gráinne Forde

Glad to hear you enjoyed the post Steve. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

All the best,
Gráinne

Reply
Gráinne Forde

Rannuverma,

Great to hear you liked the post! Thanks for taking the time to let us know 🙂

Gráinne

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