Leadership can be learned. While it can be enhanced immeasurably by natural aptitude and experience, supporting leaders with exposure to theory, concepts, cases, guided experiences, and other practical information and learning methodologies is essential.

Two-ear colleges are facing major change. The majority will undergo a turnover in college presidencies in the next ten years, at a time when they are being asked to be engines for economic growth, enable more students – and a greater diversity of students – to gain 21st century qualifications, and provide a pathway to higher degrees, all with reduced state and local funding.

Setting the Agenda for Change

Dramatic changes for community colleges are inevitable. If community colleges don’t take charge of their own futures and reinvent themselves, they will become shaped and reinvented by strong external social, political and economic forces. State legislatures, accreditation committees, state and federal education officials, four year institutions, local business leaders, and voters are strong forces that are on the verge of taking control of the future of community colleges, just as they have done with the public schools [4]. Community college leaders need to stop blaming the lack of funding, lack of qualified applicants, board members, unions, state education offices, past practices and so on. They cannot afford another decade of rhetoric and finger pointing when it comes to developing new dynamic leaders who will lead the transformation of our community colleges.

Succession Planning

Although business has a proven track record of leadership succession planning, higher education does not [2]. Historically, career trajectories leading to the presidency began in the faculty ranks and progressed through positions as department chair, dean, and vice president. However, these long-standing patterns have recently begun to change, with leaders rising through other areas within the college and from outside higher education.

As colleges begin to think about leadership succession planning, it is useful to consider the areas in which many first-time presidents feel insufficiently prepared: fiscal responsibility for an entire institution and relationship interactions [2]. Interactions concern relationship dealings with staff, the board, and community stakeholders. According to ACE (2007), new presidents often feel unprepared for fund-raising, supervising capital improvements, managing risk, budgeting, and engaging in entrepreneurial ventures. Leaders also felt insufficiently prepared in the interaction skills of crisis management and governing board relations [3]. The necessity of dealing with critical fiscal issues and the complementary need to find alternative funding through grants and development efforts may begin to shape the type of presidents needed in the future.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has identified core competencies for community college leaders that include organizational strategy, communication, resource management, collaboration, community college advocacy, and professionalism [1]. These competencies offer a framework for refining or developing the leadership skills and attributes needed to resolve current and future challenges and prepare for career opportunities.

Further, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Community College Division offers institutes and other professional development opportunities at regional and national conferences and other venues to prepare future leaders for senior leadership positions. The hope is to help future leaders refine and enhance their leadership skills so they can be hired to lead institution out of the current quagmire and into sustainable colleges meeting the future needs of our students [3].

A Multidimensional Model

A multidimensional model (see Figure 1) of leadership addresses issues of leader cognition, race and gender, the importance of culture, and the need for more collaborative modes of communication and decision making to frame and implement change [2]. It recognizes that there is no longer any one way to lead, and that the next generation of leaders will be more diverse, possess experience and qualifications from a wider variety of careers, and follow new pathways to their positions. Leaders in the future will possess a cultural competency that is fostered by being lifelong learners.
Figure 1 - Multidimensional Leadership Model
From a multidimensional perspective, communication provides a mechanism that enacts a number of leadership skills [2]. Communicating on campus provides leaders with a unique opportunity to frame their key messages and underpins a span of competency clusters. Viewing leadership from a multidimensional basis offers a view of the competencies that link skills with different foci of emphasis depending on a person’s leadership orientation. The clusters outlined in this book are inclusivity, framing meaning, minding the bottom line, and systems thinking that highlight various competencies depending on the college context and the leaders’ preferences.

Adding to the way we think of multidimensional leaders are gender and race. Gender and race impact the career pathways of leaders, affect how leaders are initially viewed, and contribute to leaders’ identity. As conceptions of acceptable leadership expands beyond the historic White male model, a wider range of individuals will both consider advanced positions and be considered for openings. The anticipated turnover of college presidencies creates an opening to shift the composition of the leadership ranges and gives a chance to include a diversity of approaches to leading.

The flexibility of the multidimensional model provides a dynamic means of thinking about leadership at community colleges. First, it allows for a range of acceptable ways to lead and is malleable to indicate growth through experience and reflection. Second, the various elements of leadership interact via the connections between levels, allowing for communication, for example, to inform how a leader enacts an organizational framework on campus. Finally, the reliance of the model on the concepts of lifelong learning are underscored by the ways in which the model change over time.

Addressing the Leadership Challenges

While there aren’t any quick fixes or one-time solutions for solving the growing deficit of qualified administrators, there are several steps colleges can take to address the problem. Below are a few suggestions.

Advice for Individuals

In creating and carrying out a career plan, individuals should partake in the following activities [2]:
  • Engage in critical reflection of your core beliefs and values so that you can align these with potential leadership opportunities.
  • Build relationships with mentors from whom you can learn the ropes and who can help open doors for you.
  • Create a broad network both within your institution and in the larger community college field. These connections can help in a job search, but often more importantly can provide you with advisers who may be able to help when you face issues as a new leader.
  • Learn more about leadership by reading books and articles on leadership, by talking with leaders whom you respect, and by attending training workshops.
  • Obtain a wide array of experiences. You may find leadership opportunities by volunteering for campus committees, engaging in professional associations or community groups, or doing a series of different jobs within your own institution.
  • Acquire the credentials needed for high-level positions. The doctoral degree is a common prerequisite for a presidency, but it is increasingly necessary for other top positions as well.
  • Participate in activities that give you an outside perspective. Serving on accreditation teams, working with state boards, or consulting at other colleges can provide unique learning opportunities that broaden your experience beyond what you can learn at a single institution.
  • Prepare for role shifts. Taking on leadership positions involves a role shift whereby you become a novice again. Furthermore, your life becomes much more public; as president, you represent your campus 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even when you think you are just getting a cup of coffee or buying the morning paper. This can be a difficult transition for new leaders and may create new relationship dynamics on campus and in the community. This role shift is made all the more difficult by the fact that presidents often have few peers on campus. Build your support network—both within and outside your college—and rely on those people to help ease your transition.
  • Acknowledge the importance of effective communication and framing change for campus members. Creating and communicating a common vision can help achieve change.

Women and leaders of color should address additional items as they begin planning for advancement:
  • Create a support network to help deal with sexism and racism you may face as you advance up the career ladder.
  • Participate in training and development programs geared toward women and leaders of color to discover how others have navigated the career pipeline.
  • Develop strategies to maintain a work-life balance that will support your career ambitions and also leave room for the other important things in your life.

Advice for Institutions

Institutional leaders and boards of trustees can help promote leadership transitions by engaging in the following activities [2]:
  • Establish an internal mentoring program to help develop potential leaders.
  • Identify potential leaders early in their careers and provide opportunities for them to develop their leadership competencies, in particular by obtaining outside experiences.
  • Create an induction program for new leaders. Providing leaders with support as they experience role shifts will help them navigate through this transition. Find ways to socialize the new leader to the campus and the community in order to improve his or her learning curve. Create and maintain links with statewide programs that oversee mentoring for new presidents in order to connect new leaders with peers throughout your state.
  • Broaden your concept of who can be a leader, paying particular attention to women, leaders of color, and leaders who have unconventional career experiences.
  • Establish and support a grow-your-own leadership program at your college. Smaller institutions may find it easier to do this on a regional basis or in conjunction with nearby 4-year colleges.
  • Support staff attendance at state, regional, and national leadership trainings and conferences.
  • Provide flexible scheduling and tuition support for individuals who wish to enroll in graduate leadership programs.

Advice for the Profession

The profession can help create leadership capacity in the 2-year sector and support aspiring leaders through engaging in the following activities [2]:
  • Create and foster regional, statewide, or national networks of community college leaders. By pooling resources these networks may be able to address a common set of issues facing community college leaders with increased efficiency.
  • Share best practices in community college leadership at conferences, meetings of professional associations, online, and in a wide array of publications for scholars and practitioners.
  • Identify graduate leadership programs that do an exemplary job of meeting practitioner needs and institutional requirements. The best programs incorporate a focus on lifelong learning and link theory and practice.
  • Assess the need for different types of leadership development programming at all stages of the career pipeline. New leaders and seasoned leaders require different types of support and may benefit from different types of training or other opportunities.
  • Expand research on community college issues and leadership dilemmas in order to help leaders better understand the issues they face. In particular, using methodologies that highlight voices that are not traditionally heard in leadership literature can shed more light on how to support community college leadership in the future.



  1. American Association of Community Colleges. Competencies of community college leaders. Retrieved from http://www.aacc.nche.edu/Resources/competencies/Pages/default.aspx.
  2. Eddy, P.L. (2010). Community College Leadership: A Multidimensional Model for Leading Change. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  3. Magdalena, H. (2011). Addressing the future leadership needs of community colleges. http://www.ijournalccc.com/articles/issue_25/delateja.html
  4. Riggs, J. (2009). Leadership, change and the future of community colleges. Academic Leadership: The Online Journal. Retrieved from http://www.mcca.org/uploads/fckeditor/file/Leadership%20Change%20and%20the%20Future%20of%20Community%20Colleges%281%29.pdf