Dear Faculty Relations - What do you wish you had known earlier in your career about being a leader? I’d appreciate hearing from our deans. – Looking for Advice 

Dear Looking for Advice - Here are some thoughts from our academic deans:  

  • Listen each time with a “new” ear. Don’t presume the upcoming personal interaction will be difficult based on past experiences with the individual.  

  • Be open to changing your view or position on something. Seek the counsel and input of those around you whom you respect. It’s a sign of a good leader. 

  • Quickly learn your context because people will immediately want your view on things. For example, while learning the ins and outs of CU Boulder’s new budget model, many I was meeting just after starting wanted to know my thoughts about it. 

  • Don’t say yes to everything! The number of asks you will receive will outnumber the resources you have to fund them. I always say, “thank you for the fresh thinking, and please develop a short white paper on this idea.” 

  • Prioritize saying “thank you.” An email, text, or even better, a handwritten note really lets people know that you, as a leader, value their contributions.  

  • Celebrate accomplishments. Honor programs when they come to an end, celebrate something new and appreciate ongoing work. A culture of appreciation shows an understanding of the effort and expertise that makes all our efforts possible. 

  • Learn first to be a good follower and model that behavior. Once I became a better follower, I became a better leader and now lead better teams.  

  • Almost every “crisis” can be put off until tomorrow. By tomorrow, it’s likely only a problem, and by next Tuesday, it has probably resolved itself.  

  • Don’t be afraid to question the practices of your organization. An important part of leadership is understanding not just what an organization does but how and why it makes certain choices. 

  • Not all the skills that are required to be an outstanding scholar and teacher at a university, like self-reliance, are necessarily skills that translate for outstanding leaders at a university.  You’re better off learning to be collaborative and fostering cooperative team effort. 

  • I wish I had read more about or consulted with leaders whose leadership style I admire to learn more about managing people.  

  • I wish I had better understood how much of my academic career (primarily writing) I would have to give up. 

  • As an expert in my field of research, I wish I’d known that I did not have to be an administrative expert on day one.  When I allowed myself to be a beginner, I really loved the job, and I got better at it! 

  • It’s important to acknowledge and elevate your own values and strategic priorities – in terms of both your position and your work-life balance.   

  • Network broadly – and LISTEN to what people are communicating to you – through their words and their actions. 


With contributions from: 

  • Glen Krutz, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences 

  • Katherine Schultz Schultz, Dean, School of Education 

  • Keith Molenaar, Dean, College of Engineering & Applied Science 

  • Lolita Buckner Inniss, Dean, University of Colorado Law School 

  • Lori Bergen, Founding Dean, College of Media, Communication and Information 

  • John Davis, Dean, College of Music 

  • E. Scott Adler, Dean of the Graduate School 

  • Scott Battle, Dean, Division of Continuing Education & Professional Studies 

  • Robert McDonald, Dean, University Libraries