Today, leaders in higher education face many issues, both internal and external, which directly affect our organizational effectiveness—our success as institutions. Internal issues can include faculty-adjunct balances, fair voice among constituencies, multicampus representation, or simple shared governance. External issues pressuring our institutions include a profusion of technology choices, disparate funding resources, and increased competition.
All these issues represent heightened levels of risk, which our institutions must face and address. As places of learning, we have always faced the risk of educating good thinkers who can adapt and apply knowledge in a changing world order. We have also addressed different debates over how to deliver quality educational experiences. Some of us have even dealt with personnel misunderstandings and labor conflicts.
But today our risks have multiplied. Now, we increasingly deal with shrinking or nonexistent state allocations, the risk of technology obsolescence without maintenance, and the important risk of competitors broadening the marketplace for online education. With budgets shrinking and costs increasing, new sources of revenue must be found—sources beyond our historical state allocations, endowments, or grants.
Now we add to all of the above the risk of failure. Recently we’ve seen higher-education institutions close their doors completely—an action anathema to our comfortable existences of the past.
With new risks comes a strong need for reliance. But now, under riskier circumstances, with unknown results, how can we pull our diverse managers together? More than ever, we are reliant upon the combined knowledge and skills of both professionals and academics. Yet, we all come from varied disciplines and backgrounds with mixed levels of field experience in management. We will need to access skills from many individuals across a variety of backgrounds to navigate our institutions through times of greater risk. Our institutions will depend more heavily on the mix of leader perspectives to govern and set direction carefully.
We must learn to trust one another. We must learn about trust, as leaders, to forge it within our institutions—and guide others. The known beneficial outcomes of trust, when present within organizations, include greater productivity, increased collaboration, heightened creativity, and shared perspectives. Problems can be more easily faced by leaders who trust one another. Trust among leaders binds efforts together so that uncertainty and risk can be squarely faced.
Through trust we can pull together under uncertainty. Through trust we can rely upon one another when outcomes are unknown. We can take the action into the unknown. Through trust we can count upon our colleagues. We can depend upon one another to do the right thing when faced with dilemmas and new ideas. We must seek to understand trust among leaders of higher education, to address trust within our organizations, and to build trust across our workspaces.