Preparing for New Leadership in Your Higher Education Department

Change is a constant in any organization, and the higher education industry is no exception. As professionals working in this dynamic field, it is crucial to be prepared for new leadership in your, and adjacent, departments. No matter the cause, a change in leadership can have a significant impact on the direction and success of a working team. As I’ve navigated supervisor fluctuation and change over the past three years, I’ve accumulated six essential focus areas to foster a smooth transition and set the stage for a successful tenure under new leadership.

  1. Embrace a Positive Attitude: Change can be unsettling, but it also brings new opportunities for growth and improvement. Approach the transition with a positive mindset, embracing the potential benefits that new leadership can bring to your department. Recognize that change is necessary for progress and innovation, and can open the door to new ideas and perspectives.
  2. Gather and Share Institutional Knowledge: As professionals working in higher education, you possess valuable institutional knowledge. Take the initiative to gather and document this knowledge, including processes, procedures, and key contacts. This information will be invaluable to incoming leadership by helping them navigate the complexities of your department more effectively. Share this knowledge willingly and collaborate with the new leader to ensure a seamless transition.
  3. Foster Effective Communication: Communication is the key to any successful transition. As soon as you become aware of the impending leadership change, communicate this information to your team and colleagues. Be transparent about the process and provide updates when possible. Encourage open and honest dialogue throughout the transition, allowing everyone to express their concerns, questions, and ideas. Effective communication builds trust and creates a supportive environment for the new leader to step into. It is likely that the change in your department will affect the workflow and stability of adjacent groups. Effective communication can minimize ripples that your office creates across the organization, community or campus.
  4. Evaluate and Refine Processes: A change in leadership presents an excellent opportunity to evaluate and refine existing processes within your department. Take a critical look at current practices, identify areas for improvement, and propose changes that can enhance efficiency and effectiveness. This proactive approach demonstrates your commitment to continuous improvement and positions your department for success under new leadership.
  5. Build Relationships: Building strong relationships with colleagues, both within and outside your department, is crucial during a leadership transition. Take the time to connect with the new leader and establish a rapport based on mutual respect and understanding. Seek opportunities to collaborate and demonstrate your expertise and dedication. Similarly, reach out to other department heads and professionals at your institution to foster cross-departmental collaboration and leverage shared knowledge and resources.
  6. Embrace Professional Development: Professional development should be an ongoing priority in any career, but it becomes particularly important during seasons of change. Take advantage of any training opportunities, workshops, or conferences that can enhance your skills and knowledge in areas relevant to your department. Personality assessment like the Birkman Method can also be a powerful tool to help team members learn more about themselves and one another.  Investing in your own growth and development not only benefits you but also contributes to the overall success of your department and institution. 

Preparing for new leadership in your department requires a proactive and positive approach. Embrace change, share institutional knowledge, foster effective communication, evaluate and refine processes, build relationships, and invest in professional development. Change is an opportunity for growth, innovation, and positive transformation. 

Plaid’s team of innovative leaders can provide  insight and guidance on transition, leadership, development, governance and more. Visit or contact us to learn how we can help you and your team be better.

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