Functional leadership in abundance isn’t always intuitive for everyone–especially for those of us who came of age in a largely dysfunctional industry like higher education.  The faculty, staff, and students of Unity College are eager to share responsibility and work within a first among equals environment, but we don’t always know how to operationalize the ethos in the chaos of everyday.

Some folks around me have been listening carefully and making some notes each time we have a conversation about leadership in abundance, functional leadership, and the Chief Officer model for administrative leadership in higher education.  Each time we solve a problem together or there is new perspective on how to work within the functional leadership in abundance model at Unity College we’ve been jotting down some ideas.

These are our notes so far.  Let us know if you have any suggestions of your own for how to work in abundance.


Guidelines for success at America’s Environmental College

  • STAY IN YOUR LANE | Notice when work is beginning to stray from the core assignment and functional purview.  Bring the work back to center, or ask whether scope should be broadened and more functions and possibly personnel should be added to the mix.
  • CHECK IN EARLY AND OFTEN | Let constituencies and decision-makers know what is under consideration so that you get feedback and avoid dead ends and non-starters.
  • SHARING IS CARING | We’re all calibrating workstyle, establishing trust, and understanding each other’s need for information.  Overshare rather than protect your supervisor from work, burden, responsibility, or information.  If we don’t know, we can’t help.
  • INCLUSIVITY IS THE RULE | Carefully identify and then creatively involve all constituencies and stakeholders in deliberative processes.  That doesn’t mean that every committee has to have 47 members.  It doesn’t mean that every community member is a stakeholder.  Identify all legitimate stakeholders then get feedback: go on a listening tour, have a focus group, do a survey.  Involve new people, senior leaders, community members, students, and faculty of all ranks in your process, incorporate that information into your decision or recommendations.
  • TRANSPARENCY LIKE AN OVERHEAD PROJECTOR | Make sure all work partners, processes, parameters, outcomes, and deadlines are established by responsible decision-makers.  And make sure those sideboards are both communicated and honored.  Decisions are made and communicated by those whose job it is to do so.
  • FOLLOW THE POLICY | If we have a policy, follow it.  If we need a policy, propose it.  If we need to change a policy, propose that.
  • EXCEPTIONS MUST BE EXCEPTIONAL | Exceptions to rules, policies, protocols, and procedures need to be just that.  Exceptions to policy can only be made by a Chief Officer.  Academic exceptions go to the CAO.  Student life to CSSO.  Etc.  Ultimately, the President can and will reverse exceptions—even if that reversal means the end of the world—if he deems that it is not in the best interest of the institution and our students, past, present, and future.
  • BE DELIBERATE AND DECISIVE | Good process does not mean slow process.  Establish inclusive committees, open processes, and aggressive timelines.  Trust the process and each other.  Finish the conversation and make a decision.  Write it down and move on.  Ratchet your work.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  • TRUST AND BE TRUSTWORTHY  | Get your assignments.  Trust each other to do the work assigned.  Then do your work to the best of your ability.  Listening to everyone’s input is important.  Making everyone happy is impossible.  Trust yourself, trust the process, trust the shared vision.
  • SHARE FAILURES AND SUCCESSES | Mistakes and unintended outcomes are part of the process.  Do not hide your setbacks and goofs.  Let us learn from our mistakes—all our mistakes.  If one of us fails or falters, we all fail or falter—we need to know so we can course correct.  If the institution and students succeed we all succeed—we need to know so we can celebrate.
  • HAVE A SHORT MEMORY, AND A LONG MEMORY | In a busy institution like ours, during times of change, folks will make mistakes.  In a first among equals model, slights, mis-steps, and miscues, must be processed, but we must have a short memory where slights are concerned.  Honest mistakes are a part of doing business.  So is forgiveness.  On the other hand, let us never forget decisions made, vision shared, and direction taken.  Let us not fall into the trap of hoping that decision-makers will forget their decisions with enough time.  Let us not willfully ignore our history, our minutes, and our commitments.