The Development of Individual and Collective Leadership Within the Admission Profession

May 1, 2014 Tom Sheppard
The Development of Individual and Collective Leadership Within the Admission Profession

Leadership is an essential ingredient for the success of any organization. Few would argue with that. What is also abundantly clear, but less frequently articulated, is that leadership is a fundamental necessity for the success of any profession. If the independent school admission profession hopes to fully evolve and garner the respect it wants, then those of us who inhabit this world must work to expand our own professional competencies and also develop the admission leaders of tomorrow.

I lost count long ago of the times others in the admission profession have confided that they feel dismissed by boards, heads, and CFOs as underserving of a substantive role in strategic planning and other areas where enrollment is a key. We wonder curiously about not being included in crucial conversations when the revenue we produce often accounts for over 90% of our school’s operating budget. While it may not be the most comforting message to receive, the truth is that we, and we alone, bear responsibility for the way in which others may perceive the value of our role. We also hold the key to altering that reality.

Instead of focusing on the way other school leaders view our profession, we must invest the time and energy to broaden our own professional skill set. Only in this way will admission professionals be positioned to help independent schools navigate the increasingly turbulent waters that lay on the horizon.

As individuals, the areas where admission professionals need most desperately to develop their professional skills often lay beyond what originally drew us into this profession:

"But I don't want to be an accountant!" No one says admission professionals have to be CPAs. In fact, your CFO probably isn't either, but if a school's Form 990 looks like Greek to them, then admission professionals must develop some competency in school finance.

"Fundraising makes my teeth itch." Admission professionals may not be the school's chief fundraisers, but we are in the advancement business. We are the first face of the school for many families and prospective donors. As such, it is imperative that we project confidence and appear knowledgeable about important educational matters. With families increasingly asking if their investment is worth it, a first impression goes a long way.

"I got into admission because I'm a people person. Others can handle the technology and the numbers." Unfortunately, this mindset just doesn't work anymore. Admission is no longer an art, it's a science, and your board wants hard numbers, As a result, those great people skills (which are so crucial) need to be matched by skills in data collection and number crunching.

Beyond the growth of individual qualities necessary for leadership in the admission profession, we must also work collaboratively to systematically develop the next generation of admission leaders. This involves identification of potential leaders and industry-wide support for their professional growth.

Identification requires current leaders in our profession to keep the future of admission in mind, offering to mentor and otherwise support those who show the skills and inclination to grow with the support of others around them. While an abundance of professional opportunities exist to support this development, little has been done to help young admission professionals create a road map for their future, laying out year by year the ways they can acquire the competencies they will need to lead their schools and our profession in the future. As an industry, we should create that road map and share it with any young professional who aspires to join us for the long term.

By taking control of our own professional development, both as individuals and as a profession, we can overcome whatever perceptions others may hold about our role as school leaders. In doing so we will ensure our own sustainability and that of the schools we call home.

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