Recently one of my deans came in to talk. She shut the door, so I figured it was another personnel problem. She started out with “I’ve decided to retire.” Well, I couldn’t have been more surprised. She is one month younger than I, and I am nowhere near even thinking about retirement.

My first reaction was one of shock. By the time I walked to the president’s office to inform him, I was already on to “who am I going to get to replace her?” She’s been at the college for 28 years and has a great deal of knowledge and experience. I have been at the college and in my current job as vice president for academic affairs for just over 18 months.

I began to ponder the question “Am I establishing a culture of sustainability?”

I’ve taken a few steps to prepare for the future. For example, about six months after I arrived, the college reposted and rehired all our department chairs. Each department chair now receives a twocourse-load reduction per semester. We will repost the jobs every two years.

Also, I meet with the deans twice a month, and one of those meetings includes the department chairs. From getting to know them, I feel confident that we have a couple of good dean candidates among that group.

But, beyond that, what have I done, or what can we do as a division and a college, to plan for the future and those inevitable resignations, retirements, or even deaths of our academic leaders?

Offer leadership training

Our president, Randall Peters, recently began an Executive Leadership Training Program. He tried this approach successfully at his previous college. He’s been the president for about two years. Now that he’s settled in and gotten the college on the right track after a merger with another college and a quarterto-semester conversion, he has time to concentrate on the next generation of leaders.

Everyone on the Senior Leadership Team (the provost and vice presidents) was able to nominate employees to participate in the ELTP. Twenty middlemanagement employees will join together to study management and leadership principles over the next 18 months.

At the end of the study period, each person who completes the program will receive an annual pay raise of $600. I submitted the names of two deans, the library director and six department chairs who will be participating in the program. No one turned down the opportunity, although they were assured it was voluntary.

Also, one or two employees may be selected to complete a one-year paid sabbatical from their normal duties. They will be interns in each of the major divisions of the college, reporting to each of the vice presidents for a one-month period.

The college already has a program in which any employee can apply for a salary adjustment by completing a certificate, diploma, or undergraduate or graduate degree.

The employee’s division vice president must determine that the requested credential is job-related and sign off on the paperwork. And the employee must document the accreditation of the provider and the curriculum. The request is approved and fled in human resources, “based on funding at the time of the completion.”

But so far, we have been able to provide the raises for every employee who completed an additional credential. I have been really pleased by the number of academic personnel who have completed or are enrolled in graduate studies.

Also, our Economic Development/Continuing Education division provides leadership training to a number of companies in our area. I have encouraged our deans and department chairs to participate in the training, especially the “delegating” and “peer today, leader tomorrow” sessions.

I am told that the speakers are very good and the sessions have been well received. I have seen the deans’ and department chairs’ delegation skills improve, something that I felt was lacking.

One of the college’s four major goals is “Develop an innovative and unified culture by establishing a progressive environment and atmosphere of engagement and opportunities for professional development.” But we don’t yet have a particular department charged with professional development. Instead, each division handles it from within.

So our academic affairs team created a comprehensive, internal professional development calendar. One of the deans volunteered to lead this effort. We invite everyone from the college to lead and attend sessions, but the effort is primarily targeted at the academic affairs employees. We have offered a variety of topics and presenters over the past year.

We also budget money to send faculty to state, regional and national meetings and conferences. Even in lean times we think this is very important.

Empower future leaders

But I continued to think, what can I do personally to foster growth in potential academic leaders? One thing I know — I can make myself into a higherlevel leader.

John Maxwell, in his book The Five Levels of Leadership, stresses that people development “assures that growth can be sustained” and “empowers others to fulfill their leadership responsibilities.” One critical area of people development that I need to improve is to spend significant time each month mentoring future leaders.

I have put in motion the development of a succession management program within the Academic Affairs division. I will spend the next several months getting it ready and will implement it in the 2013–14 academic year. It will be one of my division’s major goals for next year.

Here are steps I will take to formulate the plan: gather and read the literature; find at least one college with similar characteristics that has a succession management program in place and visit it; make mentoring a critical component of the plan; create a promotion plan so that the succession management program will be transparent to all employees; and make the program an important part of the employee’s annual evaluation that takes place in June.

The deans will make the succession management program an important point of the evaluation by asking each employee undergoing a review, “What do you want/plan to be doing in your career in 2–5 years?” Depending on their answers, make their development an important part of our unit’s objectives, and more specifically the personal objectives for the deans and myself.

Right now we ask that question, but it is a perfunctory action. And we just file the answer away in HR and do nothing to follow up. Changes to the performance reviews will make them more meaningful for the employee. We need to make sure we are creating activities and opportunities for people to grow and, where possible, be promoted.

Of course, the college is an equal opportunity employer, and this requires all jobs to be posted. However, we aren’t required to post every job externally. We can post jobs internally and leave them open for five days.

I will make sure that every job that is posted internally or externally is announced openly to all employees, probably via the sending of an “all employees” email. Informing only some of the employees through the “grapevine” would damage the employees’ faith in the succession management program.

Another task will be to identify all key positions and to create a list of competencies for each job. We are very accustomed to doing this in the classroom for our students. But we don’t do such a great job of it when it comes to identifying what knowledge, skills and attitudes it takes to do a job well.

Attitude is particularly important. The word comes from the Latin word aptitudo meaning “ftness.” We often talk about whether a person is a good “ft” or not, but how do we explain that to a person who wants to develop into an academic leader? I think attitude is a crucial component of growth.

I am very excited about this new initiative. I hope to report back to you in two years that it has been successful and that we have developed current employees and have promoted them into critical leadership positions within the college.