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ASU Leadership Academy to cultivate new generation of leaders in higher education

October 23, 2014

The need to foster current and emerging leaders in higher education is soaring considering rapid advances in technology and the expansion of higher education as an enterprise. To cultivate a leader who can harness innovative collaborations and new approaches to help realize the ideal of a New American University, Arizona State University has launched the Leadership Academy.

The academy, which began as a Lightworks initiative that was expanded to the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and is now university-wide, was piloted in 2012. It is a yearlong program designed to develop leaders among ASU faculty members and staff operating in research roles. It is sponsored by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and the Office of Knowledge and Enterprise Development.

“We need to start training the next generation of leaders in ASU and higher education who can take charge of forward-thinking programs and initiatives – individuals who wish to stretch beyond their traditional roles and know not only the art of collaboration, but also the art of reaching out to stakeholders and the public to talk about real-world problems and solutions,” said Ann Kinzig, one of the three steering committee members of the academy, professor at the School of Life Sciences and chief research strategist at the ASU Wrigley Institute.

May Busch, executive in residence in ASU’s Office of the President and a member of the academy’s steering committee, said that being a leader is more about behavior and mindset, and goes beyond a formal title or position.

“Leadership in the 21st century is about engaging people who progress toward a shared purpose, and help advance themselves and the university,” said Busch, who most recently served as the chief operating officer of Morgan Stanley Europe. “As a New American University, we need open-minded leaders actively linking with the rest of the world. ASU is the perfect petri dish for the academy because of its commitment to excellence, access and impact.”

To partake in the Leadership Academy, a participant must be a faculty or staff member, nominated by their dean to ensure the unit’s support. In addition, they must take on a “leadership challenge” – a live project to enable hands-on learning.

The free-of-cost program is divided into a variety of skill-building modules that focus on different aspects of leadership qualities. To enable a deeper understanding of participants’ capabilities, areas of improvement and progress, the program is preceded and followed by 360-degree leadership assessments that include feedback from colleagues, employees and supervisors.

Minu Ipe, a member of the academy’s steering committee, is a clinical associate professor of management at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business and faculty director of the school’s professional MBA programs. She said an important design principle of the academy is to create a community of leaders across ASU to enhance interdisciplinary collaborations.

“For me, the most powerful component of the program is peer mentoring. During the program, participants are divided into groups of three peer mentors who are committed to helping each other succeed,” said Ipe. “By encouraging participants to build relationships with their fellow cohort members, we perpetuate a culture of excellence underpinned by peer-to-peer exchange of knowledge across disciplines.”

Participants are also required to attend three, two-day (overnight) workshops held off-site that feature sessions presented by a variety of experts from inside and outside of ASU for an immersive learning experience. The sessions focus on building skills, such as self-awareness and strategic decision-making, and provide context for leadership in 21st century higher education. Throughout the year, participants are also required to attend multiple smaller group sessions and discussions that focus on topics of their choice.

Kinzig, who has previously served in The Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House and focuses on effectively transforming university research to be more socially relevant, said the structure of the academy encourages participants to take risks and step out of their comfort zones to grow as leaders.

“We want the academy to serve as a safe place where participants are not afraid to take risks or fail,” she said. “As individuals, we are often comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who are similar, but we are best served by surrounding ourselves with people who have different strengths from us. We’d like the academy’s participants to be tolerant of a certain level of discomfort, and value different kinds of strength in order to be true leaders.”

Bruce Rittman, Regents' Professor and director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at ASU’s Biodesign Institute, just graduated as a member of the academy’s first cohort.

“One of the true values of the Leadership Academy was getting to know many leaders around ASU,” said Rittman. “Additionally, the workshop sessions were of value to me in terms of how to effectively manage my time and work with large, interdisciplinary groups.”

The steering committee members emphasized that the leadership development program is centered on each individual’s personal values to enhance their leadership abilities.

“We resist the notion of a single ideal or definition of leadership,” said Busch, Ipe and Kinzig. “Realizing the vision of a New American University will take many different leadership styles, from people who will lead gigantic research teams to others who might be independent thought leaders within their units. The Leadership Academy helps each person reach their full potential by giving them tools, strategies and teachings that they can use to achieve their goals.”

“Leaders emerging from the academy will become more self-aware, strategic in their approach to advancing new ideas and projects, and able to communicate complex concepts clearly to both academic and non-academic professionals,” said Busch. “They will be connectors, bridging gaps between disciplines and teams.”

Ipe added, “If you want to do more, believe you have the potential to contribute in bigger ways, wish to play an active role in helping ASU move in the direction of a New American University, and are looking to interact with interesting colleagues from various disciplines for innovative collaborations, join the Leadership Academy.”

More information regarding the Leadership Academy can be found at Questions can be sent to Chelsea Chamberlain, at