Wisdom Given and Received

Wisdom Given and Received

Higher Ed Leaders Share Advice That’s Helped Them and Can Help You

The University Innovation Alliance (UIA) began our Innovating Together Podcast in April 2020. With support from Inside Higher Ed, we’ve used our Weekly Wisdom series to surface a wide array of topics through the perspective of higher education leaders. Some of our interview questions focus on the challenges and practices that are unique to their institutions, while others are more general. We often end the conversation by asking presidents and chancellors these two questions:

• What’s the best career advice you ever received?
• What career advice do you most often give to rising higher ed leaders?

We’d like to share some of our favorite replies.

Best Advice Received
Great advice can come from anywhere, whether it’s a mentor, a family member, or even an adversary. Great advice might ring true from the moment we hear it, or it might be borne out by experience, leading to an “aha!” moment when we realize, “Hey, they were right about that!”

1. “It's all about the people; people are the most important thing. If you put the people first in making difficult decisions and planning for the university, then pretty much everything else will fall into place." – Cindy Larive (Chancellor, University of California, Santa Cruz)

2. “Everyone who you network with is a future ally. Don't burn bridges. Agree to do things even if you don't immediately see the personal benefit, because those relationships pay off in the end.” – Tim Renick (Founding Executive Director, Georgia State University’s National Institute for Student Success)
Quote by Tim Renick re: not burning bridges because every professional relationship pays off.
3. "Never make a decision solely on money. Make it on your passion." – Taylor Randall (President, University of Utah)

4. "Make sure that you ask everyone in your teams if you're doing something wrong. Because if you can have constructive criticism given to you, when you give it back, it will be understood that it is not a one-way street.” – Javier Reyes (Former Interim Chancellor, University of Illinois Chicago)

5. “Ask for help. It’s too big, complex, and difficult to do by yourself, and people find it endearing. Some of the biggest problems cut across disciplines. And that’s one way to build partnership.” – Kristina Johnson (Former President, Ohio State University)

6. “Think hard about what you want someone to say about you when you’re dead.” – Michael Crow (President, Arizona State University)

Advice Most Frequently Given
A truly effective leader sets examples that others want to follow. When our podcast guests share the advice they most commonly give, their answers run from insider tips to commonsense reminders, always delivered with the generosity of accomplished higher ed leaders who want to see the next generation of leadership be even better.

7. "Trust no one when you come in the door. Everybody wants something, and you need to figure out where you fit into that, and where the institution fits, and what's best for students." – Daria J. Willis (President, Howard Community College)

8. “Not everybody wants to be a president. Not everybody should be a president. Understand your own goals, your own personality, what you’re suited for. Find a path that’s right for you and find a way that it’s going to be rewarding.” – Becky Johnson (Former Interim President, Oregon State University)
Quote by Becky Johnson re: finding the right leadership path to best match your goals and personality.
9. "You've got to do your work internally and take care of yourself. That really matters because you're onstage nonstop. Every little thing is being watched by people who want to do good work, and they want signals that they're going in the right direction. You've got to have that yin and yang between self-care and awareness about how you're driving yourself forward." – Mark Milliron (President, National University)

10. “One of the hardest things is to shift from being a great manager to a great leader. If you're going to lead people, there needs to be a compelling vision that's achievable. And when everybody can contribute to how we're going to get there, they're included, they feel heard, and they understand their role.” – Becky Takeda-Tinker (President, Colorado State University Global)

11. "The best way you can learn is to be a thoughtful listener and helpful respondent. And the other thing is find a president or chancellor who never wanted to be a president or chancellor, and they're generally doing it for the right reason." – Kim Wilcox (Chancellor, University of California, Riverside)
Quote by Kim Wilcox re: the leaders who never wanted to lead are generally leading for the right reason.
12. "Don't forget the privilege of the service. The other advice is make sure you're working with your assets. I also say, 'I hope you love people if you're a leader, because I don't know how to lead people I don't love.'" – Valerie Sheares Ashby (President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

More Advice and Inspiration From Higher Ed Leaders
Over the past few years, we’ve offered a few more collections of helpful insights from our Weekly Wisdom guests. We think you’ll enjoy these blogs as well:

11 Inspiring Quotes by Higher Ed Leaders for Challenging Times
Advice for New Presidents and Chancellors
10 Pieces of Higher Ed Leadership Advice in Challenging Times
Leadership Advice to Start the New Academic Year
More Leadership Advice for the New Academic Year
16 Ways Higher Ed Leaders Combat Burnout

Note: The interviews cited in this blog were drawn from the Weekly Wisdom Series and originally aired between May 3, 2021 and August 21, 2023 as part of the University Innovation Alliance’s Innovating Together Podcast, created in partnership with Inside Higher Ed.

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