Recruiting Business School Deans: Business-Savvy Leaders Wanted

By Lucy Leske

Leske, Lucy 110x135From declining enrollment to competition from online programs, business school deans have a lot on their plates today. Some deans are concerned about growth and expansion, while others fret over their schools’ survival and sustainability. Candidates for b-school leadership are expected, more than ever, to present a wide range of skills acquired inside and outside the traditional walls of academia.

In a recent article for BizEd, entitled “Who Will Keep Business Schools in Business?”, I explore the many challenges business school leaders currently face, as well as challenges their schools face in recruiting new deans. For the article I asked several current business deans what their schools needed most from leaders. The answers fit into the following four categories:

  1. The ability to think broadly, boldly, and innovatively. Business schools can no longer get by following the same paths to success that worked in years past. They need to work closely with actual businesses and be willing to employ both creative and flexible approaches to determine next directions.
  2. The ability to run cross-disciplinary institutions. Many deans acknowledged that today’s leaders are generally not suited for this role; they need to strengthen their abilities to foster relationships outside of the business school if they hope to develop interdisciplinary programs that appeal to students.
  3. The ability to be a manager and an academic. Not only should business school leaders be cross-disciplinary but they should have experience outside of academia. Those with prior experience in the business world have a definite advantage in that they can typically approach leadership with a managerial skill set.
  4. The ability to be an entrepreneur. Although many leaders may inherently possess this quality, they need freedom to truly innovate and change the landscape of their school. At many institutions this is just not possible. Again, creative thinking and the ability to collaborate with other leaders will lead to successful new pursuits.

In recruiting business school deans, I am often asked by clients to include “nontraditional” leaders in the pool of candidates – that is, candidates who come from outside of academia, often from the corporate world. No matter where these new business school leaders come from, one thing is quite clear: they need to be innovative and eager to adapt to the broad changes facing business education today.

Lucy Leske is a senior partner in Witt/Kieffer’s Education practice.

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