The Next Step

By Sharon Shinn

April 25, 2017

THE U.S. ELECTION of 1992 was famously acrimonious and ended with upstart Bill Clinton defeating incumbent George H.W. Bush. It wasn’t the most promising scenario for a cordial transfer of power. But when Clinton took possession of the Oval Office, he found a gracious letter that Bush had left behind, wishing him luck and telling the new president not to be overly discouraged by the critics. The note concluded with the words “I am rooting hard for you.” I think of this as the gold standard for the way a retiring leader should welcome a successor.

While there are notable exceptions in all fields, the majority of countries, companies, and colleges experience changes of top leadership on a fairly regular basis, and many have established strict protocols for handing over the reins. Indeed, succession planning is a top priority for any organization that wants to remain functional and productive into the future.

But succession planning can be an unwieldy activity at the university, where many stakeholders have a voice in the process of selecting the next leader. What can business schools do to ensure a smooth transfer of command? In “Transition of Power,” four individuals who recently stepped down as deans describe the actions they took to ease the way for their successors and offer their recommendations to any other deans planning to leave the office. The advice is pretty straightforward, according to Mel Stith, former dean at Syracuse University. “Stay out of the building. You’ve had your day. If you wanted to keep having an impact, then you should have stayed on as dean.”

New deans aren’t the only business school leaders prepping for leadership roles; professors are frequently stepping into administrative positions as department heads and faculty chairs. Unfortunately, many of them feel as if they haven’t been adequately trained for their new responsibilities. That’s the issue that Washington University’s Jackson Nickerson and AACSB’s Patrick Cullen discuss in “Training Great Leaders.” They surveyed hundreds of deans to discover what kind of preparation these leaders wished they’d gotten before they became administrators—and how these deans groom their own faculty to become leaders at every level of the school.

Leadership and succession planning aren’t the only topics we tackle in this issue of BizEd. We also take a look at the challenges faced by people on the very opposite spectrum of retiring deans—students who are just starting out in their careers. Amy Jo Carpenter leads Tennessee Tech University’s Student to Career program, which is designed to make sure graduates have the poise and professionalism to succeed in theworkplace. She helps them perfect every aspect of their presentations, from their clothes to their table manners to their “personal brands.” Read how she does it in “Polish, Practice, Prepare.”

There’s a common theme between these two sets of articles: It’s essential for everyone to develop the right skills for the job, whether they’re stepping up or stepping down. It’s clear that b-school administrators have a role to play in either case—not just as cheerleaders who root for these individuals to succeed, but as mentors who provide them with the skills they’ll need to be leaders both on and off campus.