Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Coaching for New Branch Campus Administrators

I’ve taken a couple of months off from posting on this blog, as part of the transition to my “encore” career. One of the things I did over the summer was to attend a week long coach training program. I’m interested in executive coaching, in several respects, including working with individuals in transition to new jobs or to their own new career.

All this led me to think about the challenges that many people face, when they accept a position as the chief administrator (CAO) of a branch campus. Some people, like me, have a regional or branch campus background, so they come into the CAO role with an understanding of the issues, politics, and so on. However, I’ve met many people whose first branch campus role is as a CAO. For example, he or she may have been a department chair or dean in a more traditional environment, although I’ve also known individuals who became CAO of a university branch, after years of service at a community college.

All of these transitions bring challenges, and nearly everyone I’ve met has spent some time bewildered by the implications of serving on a branch campus. If there are multiple branch campuses at the institution, then the new CAO may have one or more peer mentors available. Most will have a “first officer,” or key administrator who can be something of a confidant. However, many new CAOs are likely to feel that they have arrived in a foreign land and that they have no one with whom they can be both completely candid and also receive support, as they think through a wide range of issues and concerns.

I’m suggesting that being a branch campus CAO can be a lonely and isolating experience, in some ways. The rewards may far exceed any challenges, of course, but one of my favorite things is to meet first-time attendees at a NABCA or RBCA conference, and to see how relieved and happy they are. It is not at all uncommon for these people to become truly excited that they have found people who face the same challenges or frustrations that they face. The networking and “therapeutic” value of these conferences are important!

In this context, I think that many CAOs, including some who have plenty of experience, could benefit from having a coach. If you simply Google “executive coaching,” you can find lots of information on what coaching is. Fundamentally, however, a coach is someone who works as a “thought partner.” More than anything, coaches provide support and ask questions in ways that help an individual (or, in some cases, a group) think through their goals, options, and obstacles, then settle on actions that will lead toward the goals. (A nice introduction to coaching is provided by Jeff Auerbach, in Personal and Executive Coaching (2001), and I have adapted my description from him.)

Ideally, a branch CAO would begin working with a coach prior to assuming the new job, as part of developing a strategy for the first weeks and months. A lot of coaching is done over the telephone, and so one might schedule conversations every two weeks or so, until the CAO is feeling comfortable in the new role. After that, calls might come as needed, whenever the CAO wants to think through an issue or an idea, believing that a conversation with the coach could be helpful.

Finally, as I’ve been pursuing coach certification, several people have expressed an interest in coaching, as part of their own work. This makes sense, given that I talk to a lot of Baby Boomers in transition, and coaching could be an excellent avenue for staying engaged and contributing to the development of other people. If you find coach training of interest, you can find information on a variety of programs online. Some are affiliated with a university, many have a specific conceptual perspective, and some are face-to-face, whereas others are online or use a mix of delivery methods. I enjoyed the 50-hour program I attended, for a number of personal/professional reasons. It was offered by the College of Executive Coaching (Jeff Auerbach is the president), but I strongly recommend that anyone interested in coach training explore the options for him or herself.

I’m not sure where my interest in coaching will take me. I see it as an aspect of positive psychology, so it fits with my interest in Appreciative Inquiry and other related areas. I think it would be very satisfying to bring a coaching approach to work with Boomers in transition to the next part of their lives, and I see potential to use coaching as a tool in consulting, perhaps helping with the implementation phase that follows initial recommendations. Regardless, I recommend that new CAOs on branch campuses consider attending NABCA and RBCA conferences, as well as connecting to a “trusted advisor,” who can help with the transition, whether you do so informally, or through a professional coach. This work is challenging enough without thinking that you are all alone out there!