Web Leadership’s Role in Higher Ed

Last week, I was fortunate enough to graduate in the second annual Pittsburg State University Leadership Class.  This is a program modeled after other similar programs around the state and nation, programs which are designed to groom and cultivate forward minded people into folks capable of stepping up and contributing to the growth and development of the university (Does your university have a leadership program for employees? If so, be sure to mention it in the comments, they seem to be fairly rare.).  About sixteen of us spent the past two semesters meeting once a month to listen to state and community leaders, do exercises, and discuss ways to better position ourselves to impact those around us (not to mention it looks great on a curriculum vitae!).

As I walked back to my office Friday afternoon, certificate in hand, I got to thinking about how critical leadership can be in a web office, and how our role at a university puts us in a position unique from almost anywhere else on campus.  First, it’s important to stress that real leadership isn’t about power, it’s about service.  I cannot stress that enough.  Almost more than in any other profession, in higher education when you are willing to take a leadership role, it means truly committing and putting yourself out there above and beyond your job description.  Maybe you’re sitting on extra committees, coordinating efforts, or taking part in things like a classified senate.  Regardless, becoming a leader requires you to commit beyond your job description and to give yourself over to serving others with the skills you have.  It isn’t just about being in charge of a bunch of people and telling them what to do.  Being a boss and being a leader are different creatures.

The reason we are in such a unique position is because of how connected we are across campus.  Public relations knows a lot of stuff, so does Advancement.  Ultimately, however, most of these entities are limited and restricted from certain aspects of campus.  The web, however, is different.  I’ve stressed before that a good web office sits under neither Marketing, nor PR, nor IT.  Instead, it should be between them all.  A hub, not a spoke.  When you serve as the hub, all things go through you.  PR isn’t particularly interested in the syllabus posting needs of faculty, or the photo gallery requirements of Athletics.  IT… well, they’re IT.  And Marketing’s main goal is to get students and money on campus.  All of them have on blinders.

We can’t work that way.  Recently, a group of about six offices came to me wanting a solution for doing things like storefronts, taking donations, and otherwise using the web to make money.  Great idea, that, because obviously with budgets getting cut, the more we can do to make easy money, the better.  It just so happens that with our web ear to the wall, we discovered at that exact time the Budgeting Office was meeting with vendors for a billing and payment processing system for campus.  Without that connectedness, this first group would have been in the dark, and we would have ended up with two different groups doing two totally different things towards basically the same goal, and spending way more money than necessary.  Instead, we stepped in, got people involved, and worked it out so everyone could benefit from a single tool.

It’s situations like that which have lead me to declare that any time I ever hear the word “web” or “internet” mentioned, I simply inject myself into the meetings and discussion.  If I don’t, there’s no one else here that is, and more often than not the result is people making less than well informed decisions.  In the case of the payment software, I didn’t necessarily have an obligation to step in and put the two groups together, but I knew that action would better serve them, the campus, and my office.  It’s no new thing that on a big campus, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, but a leadership minded web office can serve as the nervous system that sends signals to both, and gets them working together to do things like play the guitar.  Metaphorically speaking, of course.

We all have a ton on our plates, no doubt.  But these small things and actions can go a long way to proving and solidifying the importance of a well resourced web office.  Imagine the money that could be saved when web steps in with recommendations for taking certain data operations online, or like in my case, when they hear two different groups working towards the same goal.  Imagine the time that is saved.  No one else has as many feelers out there as we do, and that leaves us in a prime position to take a leadership role, and help serve the campus to keep it running straight and efficiently.  Pick your metaphor: we’re the nervous system, we feel the pulse, we sense the weather changing - it all comes down to knowing how much we can do and offer for campus, even if you don’t have to.

cc Web Leaderships Role in Higher Ed photo credit: pedrosimoes7

12 Responses to “Web Leadership’s Role in Higher Ed”

  1. Says:

    This is great. Higher ed needs more hubs.

    And you’re right, the mind set of service and facilitation will keep the web office as a network node, hub, or nervous system playing the guitar.

    Service is proactive and so is leadership. It’s not just about getting projects done, it’s stepping up to help with the bigger picture.

  2. Says:

    this is a really great read. Reminds me of Zeldman’s “Let There be Web Divisions” post. https://www.zeldman.com/2007/07/02/let-there-be-web-divisions/

  3. Says:

    Great post and yes our college (Lethbridge College) has a leadership academy. I hope to attend it during its next go-around. You hit the nail on the head. Being a leader is about educating and empowering. At least that’s what I see my role as the Web Services Manager. If I was to try and drive directions and initiatives by myself or with my office, they would fail. We need to share the knowledge and enable others on campus to leverage the power of the web. Thanks for the post.

  4. Says:

    Tufts has a Foundations of Leadership program, from which I just graduated! Also, great post, thanks for sharing. I agree with the hub vs. spoke and boss vs. leader distinctions completely. This post resonates a bit too well :-)

  5. Says:

    Great post! You hit on some very important points. People ask me why I go to so many meetings all the time - and you illustrated exactly why. I insert myself, or am invited, to discuss anything Web/electronic media/social media related.

    Ironically, this is also the reason I also oversee the college’s Welcome Center. When it was first announced a few years ago, we heard many comments such as “what is the Web girl doing managing the Welcome Center?” Makes perfect sense to me - I’ve put everything on the Web about every area on campus and know the campus inside and out. I go to meetings all over campus across every division/school and have my pulse on what’s happening on campus, and am able to share that info with my staff at the Center, who share it with visitors and callers to our campus.

  6. Says:

    Cheers to you (and Rachel) for stepping up and figuring out what needs to happen. So many people become complacent in their roles and may even let things not get done because it ‘wasn’t their job’. Every campus should have someone like you: forward-thinking and problem-solving without even being asked!

    I like this alot: “real leadership isn’t about power, it’s about service”. If only more leaders understood this….

  7. Says:

    First of all, congratulation for graduated from the Pittsburg State University Leadership Class. Secondly, I was impressed of what you’re stated here, as there are many people have forgotten that without a first class service, the customers might be flipped away as soon as they could!

  8. Says:

    A great post - it was like reading about my own role at the University of Derby (UK). I completely agree it’s not in my job description but without my name equalling ‘web’ in my organisation it would make my job as web manager much harder in the long run. It’s just turned me into a meeting junky :(

  9. Says:

    Great post. I am a web applications developer in the Communications and Marketing office at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis). Our campus offers a similar course every spring semester called “Leadership in Dynamic Organizations” for university staff. The course meets weekly for three hours where approximately forty employees hear presentations from key campus leaders on their unit’s roles and more specifically on a designated leadership topic (ex. diversity, social responsibility, employee engagement, etc) The course also serves as a networking opportunity between the participants for better communication and integration with campus activities. This course has been highly beneficial in building relationships, expanding skill sets and grooming leaders for the future of the university.

  10. Says:

    Chris, that sounds like a great thing that your organisation does. In large environments, it’s difficult for people to meet each other let alone work out how best to work use your skills togteher. Those kind of events get people inspired and talking!

  11. Says:

    Good read, thanks. Always looking out for weird and wonderful stuff to read :)

  12. Says:

    I absolutely agree that real leadership isn’t about power, it’s about service. Nice post.