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A New Chancellor Wrestles with Transition

Penelope (“Pen”) Hayward has been appointed Chancellor of Parsifal University, one of five campuses in the state system. Parsifal is a research II university known for its engineering and computer science programs, but also recognized for strong undergraduate programs in business, nursing, education, environmental science, and humanities. Pen was a non-traditional candidate who came to the Chancellorship from a leadership position in the pharmaceutical industry. The search committee was impressed by her ability to work collaboratively with scientific research teams while paying attention to the bottom line. Her predecessor left the University suddenly when offered an opportunity to lead a think tank. During the power vacuum that accompanied a turbulent transition period, the deans, vice presidents, and even some system board members asserted themselves in unhelpful ways that led to mistrust and hard feelings among the senior leadership of the campus. The faculty, consequently, have become cynical about all administrators.

Pen realizes that swift and decisive action is essential to getting Parsifal back on the right track, but she is wise enough to understand that her relative unfamiliarity with academic administration and campus culture is a handicap. She suspects that certain members of her cabinet are not capable of delivering the results the university will need going forward. On the other hand, these senior leaders know the institution, its culture, and their professions much better than she does. While she knows it would be a mistake to confess her uncertainty to members of the leadership team on campus, she has also found that the system president does not see himself as a resource for her. Most of all, she feels she needs a good listener with relevant expertise and no political agenda to help her sort through her options and devise a strategy to rebuild her leadership team.

How could we help? For starters we can provide a set of knowledgeable and sympathetic ears – sometimes just talking through problems like this can provide the CEO with greater clarity. We are good at listening – and at keeping sensitive matters confidential. But beyond that:

· We can conduct independent assessments of particular operational units, their leaders, and their effectiveness. This can help determine whether leadership changes are urgent and or if other measures might be preferable.

· We can assess the dysfunction within the leadership team and determine whether different management strategies or administrative restructuring can reverse it.