Until recently, the basic responsibilities of leaders in higher education had been unchanged for centuries. For most of the last century, universities and colleges enjoyed steady growth, favorable public perception, and dependable funding. With institutions succeeding on all fronts, there was little reason to assess leaders’ capabilities.

Today, we live in a new era.

Using Yesterdays Solutions for Today’s Problems

Many higher education institutions still rely on old leadership methods that are ill-equipped to solve today’s problems. The criteria for electing leaders is still based largely on the candidate’s past performance, especially their ability to get published. The problem is that the leaders of today need interpersonal skills, adaptability, and business instincts that were unnecessary for their predecessors. The basic question is this: if colleges and universities face unprecedented risks, financial and political challenges, and student demographics, how can a candidate’s past research abilities and experience be considered a predictor of success?

Evaluating Evidence vs. Following Instinct

To hire a new leader, higher education institutions must balance objective evidence (past performance, achievements, and experiences) with their subjective, gut-level reactions. Both have validity, but neither give a complete picture of a candidate’s suitability for the job. The intuition—be it bad or good—must be supported by the evidence throughout the hiring process. But it doesn’t stop there. Higher education institutions are now borrowing leadership assessment methods used for decades in the corporate word to find leaders that can succeed in today’s environment.

The Psychometric Assessment Method

To supplement their intuitive and analytic assessment methods, higher education boards are increasingly using psychometric assessment models that help separate great leaders from great leaders who would excel at overcoming particular challenges. The system evaluates the candidate’s:

• Personality – Is the candidate timid, diligent, cautious, aggressive, bold, or altruistic? Would these qualities be advantageous or harmful to a leader at your organization?
• Values and Motives – Does the candidate’s personal values aligned with the institution’s values? Do they share the same mission?
• Core Competencies – Do the candidate’s strengths lend themselves to success in higher education specifically? Are they adaptable, level-headed, and even-handed?

Why Leadership Assessment Matters

Given today’s demands, having an objective leadership assessment method is essential. Putting more time in at the front end will help you to:

• Discover potential performance gaps and identify whether a candidate can overcome them
• Clarify the need for leadership mentors and/or leadership development
• Validate hiring decision to boards of directors, alumni, the media, students, and faculty

Higher education institutions need an alternative to the standard approach of leadership development, organizational transformation, and program evaluations, and these tools and others (including mentoring and coaching) are critical to improve our institutions.