New leader, build your team!

As a college president, Leo Higdon is seeing higher education absorb some of the same pressures that have slammed business, from the shortened tenures of its leaders to some unprecedented financial pressures.

His take: Under those conditions, it’s the senior management team, not the individual leader, that will make itself indispensable to the organization over the long run. Higdon advises new leaders to take three steps—each containing a series of actions—to create a long-lasting team:

  1. Set the right tone. A new leader’s earliest actions often make the most lasting impressions. To keep talent from defecting and to keep promising people coming on board, include everyone in decision making from the start, make sure everybody has a role and lay out the process as clearly as possible.
  2. Assemble a senior team. Your early hiring decisions for the management team send a message about direction and reaffirm the organization’s values and priorities. It’s not time to clean house, Higdon says. He suggests combining experienced people who have institutional memory with newcomers who offer fresh perspectives.
  3. Turn them into a team. Don’t assume that even talented and experienced people will automatically start rowing together. It’s your job to make that happen. Give your people time to come together, but if the team arrives at an impasse, you have to focus and guide discussions until the members agree.

— Adapted from “Making the Team,” Leo I. Higdon Jr., The Chronicle of Higher Education.