EDUCAUSE is an American membership organisation with over 80,000 members and showcases the best thinking in higher education IT. At their recent annual conference, I attended a presentation by Tom Andriola, Vice Chancellor, Information Technology and Data Chief, and Digital Officer at the University of California.
Tom discussed and elaborated on the essential characteristics he believes define a digital leader. As Tom dug deeper into each, he used the Batman and Robin metaphor. In this example, Batman represents education and Robin represents technology; just like in the comic, one cannot exist without the other. They can do good on their own, but only together can they battle evil and (in this case) fight the fixed-mindset generation that must be fought if education is to survive and embrace the future.
Tom argues that the ability to offer value and maintain relevance in the classroom is supported by a leader’s key competences, which include leadership, cooperation, innovation, and the capacity to create change. Without these, leaders risk falling into a fixed mindset and failing to capitalise on technology and the power of change in education.
Supporting Tom’s views is a recent EDUCAUSE article that says, “The modern CIO is a synthesis of the two archetypes associated with IT leadership: the technical supervisor and the strategic decision-maker. Today’s CIOs should be well-equipped to shepherd their institutions through the stormy present and towards a prosperous future by combining awareness of operational difficulties with the technologies that might assist solve them.” (The Evolving Role of Chief Information Officers in Higher Education | EDUCAUSE: The Evolving Role of Chief Information Officers in Higher Education | EDUCAUSE)
Tom described how, throughout the years, his work has focused on how to attract and retain talent, a topic he believes is more essential now than ever before, and one with which I completely agree, having had similar discussions with participants at a prior EdMedia conference and with Jisc members. Indeed, many conference attendees openly displayed on name badges their role as “current”, advertising the idea that they may change to another role at some point and that they are proud of that fact. This observation is supported by a recent poll, which indicated that 30% of US higher education personnel are seeking a new position.
Investing in leaders is crucial, and “levelling up” within an institution is a critical step forward says Tom. Staff remain motivated and acquire a knowledge base and skill set that can serve to bring the entire institution along by developing and bringing them through an institution. External recruiting happens and should occur, but at the junior level to ensure career and institutional advancement. In addition, at the university all senior staff spend one day per month in another position at the institution, learning and being exposed to aspects and processes along the way, making them more rounded and informed.
A growth mindset is also important. Leaders who lack this can see challenges as obstacles, give up easily, ignore or dismiss useful feedback, feel threatened, and thus compete with others. Leaders with a growth mindset will see challenges as opportunities (Something we advocate in the Digital Leaders Programme), persist in and learn from setbacks, seek learning and improvement from criticism, and find inspiration and learn from the success of others. This mindset facilitates and brings people together, builds consensus, and finds a path to an end, all of which are necessary for institutional success.
Just like our superhero metaphor, in order to remain relevant, leaders will need to;
1 – Combat the generation of fixed mindsets
2 – Attract and retain talent
3 – Invest in and develop people
4 – Embrace change
5 – Recognise that together, we can do more, better.
Many of the key takeaways from Tom’s presentation were repeated throughout the conference from presenters from across the globe.
At the same conference, I had the honour of co-presenting, alongside Debbie Baff. We talked about how to lead an efficient digital organisation, which is a challenging road that involves a passion for technology as well as the ability to motivate individuals at all levels of an organisation. How would you go about doing so? How do you reach your digital goals? How have others handled it?
You can find more about the conference via #EDU22.