While much has changed in enrollment management in recent years, one fact remains constant: the right kind of leadership is critical in achieving enrollment success. Several characteristics define leaders who are able to succeed within the realities of the profession today.
They can see the big picture
Enrollment leaders who allow themselves to be sidelined by relatively small crises or mired in every detail will not find success. When you’re constantly reacting, it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees.
Long-term success is contingent upon being proactive and having the ability to look far beyond that next crisis. Successful leaders have a strong focus on their overarching objective. They prioritize the short-term objectives in which they need to be directly involved and let go of projects they can delegate.
Successful enrollment leaders:
- Do the strategy and the intra-campus relationships,
- Delegate the bulk of the individual tactics comprising that strategy, while prioritizing a few for themselves, and
- Outsource the obvious, turning tasks over to those who can do them with greater efficacy. Delegation is critical to your success and sanity. You don’t need to come up with all the answers on your own.
They involve staff and allow them to develop professionally
Ineffective leaders fail to build up their team. Strong leaders sharpen their focus on the big picture by empowering their staff to take on challenges and handle crises. The result? A more well-equipped staff and, by virtue of that, fewer crises—not to mention happier, more motivated employees.
It’s important to “keep it real” by including and informing staff rather than over-protecting them by not sharing anything. A staff that buys in to your objectives and feels a personal investment in achieving them is a critical foundation for success.
They identify partners to success and work to build consensus
Priorities and objectives that impact constituents from every part of campus fall on the desk of an enrollment leader. Those who don’t speak up and lead among their colleagues lose power and credibility in the eyes of their president and, just as importantly, fail to garner critical support from other departments.
Good enrollment leaders regularly collaborate with campus colleagues who can make the difference in their ability to successfully meet objectives. While campuses remain somewhat siloed, Enrollment Management is the polar opposite of this, bringing together often disparate functions.
A strong enrollment leader can be—really, needs to be—the force that breaks down some of those campus silos. Sometimes that means the ability to delegate tasks to these colleagues; often it means seeking advice and support. This is about influence more than it is about power.
They plan for succession.
Good leaders aren’t naïve enough to think everyone in their office has found their dream job. They are smart enough, however, to capitalize on the talents and interests of individual staff to meet the needs of the office and energize employees. Putting the right people in the right places—and showing those people the path for advancement—is critical.
Succession planning is mutually beneficial to the staff and the institution. For staff, it offers opportunities for professional development, and lessens the impact of losing a colleague. For the institution, it ensures that everyone’s role is understood and readily replicable. The critical components of succession planning include:
- Documentation. Every staff member needs to record what they do, and when, why, and how they do it.
- Understand staff feelings. They may feel threatened and protective of their job, but emphasize the importance of transparency and the opportunities this can open for them.
- Tear down silos. Each critical task needs an owner and a back-up. Cross-train staff to understand how to execute important functions.
- Ask “what if.” If a staffer leaves tomorrow, could someone else in the office quickly pick up where they left off? If you can’t answer “yes,” it’s time to reassess your process.
- Challenge each staff member. Give staff a chance to develop critical thinking skills. Ask them what they would do to improve processes or enhance results.
They track and measure everything
Effective enrollment managers not only track data but understand how to leverage it to make the most of each key decision. Enrollment management is both an art and a science. The art is in how you interpret and act upon the science. But data won’t tell you anything unless you ask the right questions. What statistics are most reflective of recruiting efficacy and of demand? What facts are beyond your control? Conversion rates and yields tell the true story.
The buck stops with them
It may take a campus to recruit a student, but the enrollment leader is the nucleus of those efforts. In building consensus and accepting the challenge of advancing the institution, taking responsibility is key.
Playing the blame game is a characteristic of a weak leader. By contrast, while not micromanaging every detail, good leaders hold themselves accountable for the actions, efforts, and outcomes of the office. That willingness to be held accountable has to come from an intrinsic belief in what you do.
They have passion for the place
Despite the issues that you will find at any institution (it’s really just a matter of the type of issues on any given campus), it’s critical to have passion for what you do and an authentic belief in what your institution does. Your enthusiasm translates to your team and to your campus collaborators. If you don’t believe in the product, why are you there—and what are you doing trying to get students to come there?
We have seen enrollment leaders turn campuses in the right direction by leading effectively and we have seen campuses crumble under poor leadership. Enrollment leaders today face many pressures, but the successful ones, in embodying these traits, can find the opportunities in those challenges.
Jacqueline Gregory is director of Enrollment Management Marketing, RuffaloCODY.