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Making Tough Career Choices: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Making Tough Career Choices: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both…

Robert Frost

Last year, during one of our large leadership programs, a participant asked me about a major career choice she faced. In this case, the choice involved leaving her organization and taking a different career path. Many of life’s dilemmas, including tough career choices, become dilemmas precisely because evidence and reason fail to provide clear direction. In situations where there is no clear direction, it is important to see the matter from various perspectives.

But how does one see in a new and different light? While not a protocol for tough career choices, or more broadly, life’s dilemmas, I have found the following questions and corresponding actions, taken as a whole, to be helpful.

What do my mentors and friends think? Most people have a handful of people who know them well, have varied life experiences, and who possess recognizable wisdom about life. Whether these individuals are mentors, a spouse or significant other, other close friends, or all of the above, they are a ready resource to help one reframe career choices. Whenever I’m stuck, I talk with mentors and friends. The advice usually helps—sometimes I take it, other times not, but talking about the dilemma helps me think and feel through it.

What are my motivations? Or, phrased somewhat differently, what’s important to me? Tough career choices present opportunities to examine and re-examine what brings satisfaction and happiness; they touch virtually every other aspect of our lives. Consequently, they should be examined in the light of a person’s total life commitments.

Dilemmas often come in the form of having two or more good choices. While not always the case, I have found that looking at career choices in the broader context of what’s important in life elucidates the situation. Why would I want to do this? How does this direction fit with my family, my social life, my mental, spiritual, and physical well-being?

How does the matter look on paper? I’m not referring to the numbers. Rather, this question reflects a simple technique that I personally find helpful. I do my best thinking with a pencil and paper. Whether it’s a pro/con list or just trying to map out a direction and options, putting my thoughts on paper seems to help.

How does the matter look to the uncluttered mind? This question is about meditation. While meditation can mean many things, in this case I’m referring to clearing the mind of the usual clutter. If one pauses for 10 seconds, he or she will hear and observe a myriad of ideas, conversations, hopes, and fears firing across the brain. Trying to hush the noise to give one’s mind a respite is difficult but vital to seeing things differently and more clearly. I sometimes sit quietly; sometimes exercise.  Sometimes there is music; other times, not. Sometimes the meditation takes the form of emptying the mind and sometimes it’s meditation on personal mission or values. However one seeks to unclutter the mind, carving out protected time to clean house is essential.

Can I live with the choice? In some ways, choice is more fundamental than reason. As noted above, choices become dilemmas when the evidence and reason fail to identify clearly the path we ought to take. I’ve made a few really bad choices, and paid the price, but in most cases it works out. In the end, I act. It may be a reasonable decision, but the big choices are almost always a step of faith believing that it’s going to work out.

Ultimately, living with one’s choices requires self-confidence.  Even if a person unwittingly makes a bad choice, they must enter the situation convinced that they can either make it work or work their way out of it.  Having self-confidence to figure out things along the way is a mark of personal leadership.


N. Karl Haden, Ph.D.
President of AAL & co-author of The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders and 31 Days with the Virtues

Why “Soft” Skills Aren’t Really Soft

Why “Soft” Skills Aren’t Really Soft

Today, emerging leaders will likely have a college degree, technical qualifications (making them theoretically competent to perform the tasks required of them), and relevant work experience—but what about the personal attributes that enable leaders to interact effectively and harmoniously with others, or what we sometimes refer to as “soft skills”?

The word “soft,” in this context, introduces a spectrum of connotations. Where skills or competencies are concerned, it is juxtaposed to “hard.” The implication is that hard skills are somehow substantial, while soft skills are somewhat ethereal.  Some might believe that acquiring soft skills is less demanding than the rigor necessary to develop hard skills, basing this assumption on popular notions of the sciences—empirical, measurable, practical—as opposed to the humanities—intuitive, indefinite, and valued as intrinsically good rather than instrumentally so.

Rather than calling them “soft skills,” and perhaps thereby implying they are less important, I propose that we think of them simply as essential leadership skills. In actuality, it is the technical or “hard skills” that are non-essential. In leadership, one can easily find people who can do the technical things, but communication, motivation, social adeptness, vision—indispensable skills for leaders—are harder to come by. Hard skills are less important as one assumes more responsibility as a leader; but so-called “soft skills” are the sine qua non for effective leadership. They are truly essential.

Today’s emerging leaders must display innovative, cultural, interpersonal, and intrapersonal skills in the broadest possible sense. Interpersonal and relationship-building skills help people communicate and collaborate effectively. Unfortunately, such skills are often overlooked and undervalued by today’s students, faculty, and administrators.

What are these leadership skills and why are they so critical?  These essential skills include:

Effective communication

Acting as a team player


Problem solving and critical thinking


Accepting feedback and applying lessons learned

Working collaboratively

Managing time

Personal confidence

Social integrity

These are skills that will help anyone in a wide range of jobs, not just a current or target position.

It’s true that, to get and keep a job, one must be competent in certain technical skills. However, given the same technical skills and level of competence, what is the primary reason one person is chosen over another for promotion and advancement?  While technical skills and competency might get one’s foot in the door, essential leadership skills push that door open wide.  One mistake that should not be overlooked is the assumption these essential skills are easily mastered. The sad fact is that many people never become competent in these interpersonal abilities and never fulfill their potential.

Today’s work environment has evolved to the point where the interpersonal dynamic no longer can be ignored. The acts of listening, presenting ideas, resolving conflict, and fostering an open and honest culture all come down to knowing how to build and maintain relationships with people. It’s those relationships that allow people to participate fully in team projects, show appreciation for others, and enlist support for their projects—that, ultimately, make them effective team members and effective leaders.


Marcia M. Ditmyer, PhD, MS, MBA, MCHES
AAL Senior Consultant

Strategic Planning: 5 Common Challenges

Strategic Planning: 5 Common Challenges

Strategic planning is a process, an outcome, and—in its best form—a roadmap used by stakeholders throughout an organization to move the organization toward higher levels of achievement. Strategic planning is also a much-maligned endeavor, subject to the usual (and frequent) criticisms: too much time, too much money, and too little action.

Having watched more strategic plans than I can count gather proverbial dust, I’d like to reflect for a moment on our experiences at AAL helping organizations create a strategic plan. There are many reasons such plans fail, but the following five challenges are among the most common:

Lack of leadership. If the leaders of the organization, program, or department do not support the plan, it will fail. This point seems obvious, but far too often leaders talk about the importance of the strategic plan as the planning process gets underway, only to show little interest down the line.

I’m thinking of a senior administrator who appeared exactly three times, for about 15 minutes each time, over a period of one year to express to his strategic planning task force how important their work was to the institution. At virtually every other gathering associated with the process, he sent an emissary to convey the importance of the strategic plan. Do you suppose those task force members viewed the process as extremely important?

How do leaders contribute to the success of the plan? They are present and engaged at the right times with the right people. Most important is their ongoing leadership responsibility: they think strategically. Strategic thinking is guided by vision, mission, and values. Strategic thinking and consequent action aligned with a clear vision of the future are an antidote to the inevitable environmental changes that undermine the details of strategic plans. Strategic thinking is ultimately about staying the course over time, in spite of detours caused by unforeseen circumstances.

Lack of consensus. I have heard more than once that the process of strategic planning is what matters, not the product. Of course, the process itself is vital; yet if an organization is serious about implementing the plan, then an excellent product is imperative.

Strategic planning is about consensus building. Done correctly, the process promotes communication, participation, and collaboration. It provides a structured forum for airing conflicts, dealing with the inevitable political struggles, and negotiating the purpose and meaning of an organization and one’s place in it. While a true consensus about all issues among all stakeholders is unrealistic, engaging everyone through interviews, focus groups, surveys, open forums, and the like is essential if leaders expect them to implement the plan.

Such engagement of others requires time. There are no formulas for the right amount of time. Too much and people lose interest or become mired in details; too little, and they feel unheard. Yet the results of this consensus-building process represent the antithesis of the plan developed by committee or the lone administrator behind closed doors.

Too ambitious. Who can predict what will happen when bright, highly motivated, visionary people are charged to participate in strategic planning? One likely outcome is that from fertile minds will grow a garden of luscious ideas. After all, germinating ideas is a core competency of most professionals.

Tending the garden, however, is an altogether different task. It involves additional human and financial resources, more time and effort, and the willingness to get one’s hands dirty by actually doing something with the idea. Overly ambitious plans tend to outstretch resources and become complicated in the implementation phase. They often have too many goals, including some that are simply unfeasible for the organization in a three-to-five-year window.

The problem of too many goals is exacerbated by implementation planning. I have seen strategies and goals deconstructed into literally hundreds of specific objectives. Even if an organization has full-time staff devoted to strategy and planning, such plans become unwieldy, demoralizing, and ultimately unhelpful as an actionable guide.

Failure to integrate the plan into the culture, operations, and budget. Failures often occur because the strategic plan is divorced from the daily life of an organization. Leaders must model the plan, and that includes talking about it—often. Every public venue and most closed venues are opportunities to stress the vision, mission, and values of the organization.

Integration involves implementing specific, measurable objectives at all levels. Tying decision-making and resource allocation to the plan is vital to making it a part of the institution’s daily life. From the departmental to the institutional level, all defining structures of the organization must be informed by the plan, including budgets, recruitment and development, curricula, and so forth. A fully integrated plan moves everything and everyone (well, most everyone—detractors and cynics reside in all organizations) in the same general direction.

Lack of momentum in the short term. The window of strategic plans continues to get smaller. When strategic planning first emerged as an organizational expectation, a plan spanning 10 years or more was not uncommon. Today, we typically advise our clients to consider a three-to-five-year window.

Even with a shorter time frame, an annual (or sometimes biennial, depending on the environment), systematic assessment of the plan is necessary for course corrections. The planning process itself should create momentum, but as noted above, if the process takes too long, then those involved begin to lose their enthusiasm. Thus the timeline is important; staying with an aggressive timeline sends the message that the planning is a serious endeavor.

Ideally, during the planning process itself, an organization will discover areas for growth and make important changes. To ensure that the strategic plan does not fall stillborn from the printer, institutions should act as quickly as possible. This means identifying those steps that can be taken in the short term and moving forward to implement them. Equally important is making sure that stakeholders know the institution has moved deliberately and decisively to act on the plan. Thus leaders must communicate their actions often and through a variety of media. Momentum in the short term conveys the message that the planning process was a serious undertaking and that the resulting strategic plan is a living document.

Strategic plans need not gather dust on a shelf. They can and should be living documents that guide an organization on a daily basis. In today’s rapidly changing and unpredictable environment, a practicable strategy is more important than ever. Organizations that meet the challenges above have much better outcomes from their strategic plan.

In the end, of the challenges listed above, the first is the greatest: the plan will succeed or fail on the strategic thinking and acting of its leaders.


N. Karl Haden, Ph.D.
President of AAL & co-author of The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders and 31 Days with the Virtues

What Leaders Can Learn from the “World Happiness Report”

What Leaders Can Learn from the “World Happiness Report”

In Chapter 9 of The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders, titled “Hope,” Rob and I devote several paragraphs to discussing the work of Viktor Frankl, a survivor of both Auschwitz and Dachau and the father of logotherapy—a theory founded on the belief that human nature is motivated by the search for purpose. Frankl once wrote, “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” Another way of stating Frankl’s point is that people need hope, the vision of a better future. Leaders bring hope to organizations, communities, and societies. Leaders help others make meaningful lives. The recent publication of the World Happiness Report reminded me that hope, meaning, wellbeing, and happiness are familial concepts. What can leaders learn from this report?

First, so much for “melancholy Danes.” For the third time since the publication of the first World Happiness Report in 2012, Denmark is ranked as the happiest country in the world. Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway followed, with the United States ranking 13th in overall happiness. The 2016 report is an update in anticipation of the World Happiness Report 2017. Led by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative of the United Nations, these studies aim to establish a scientific, empirically verifiable basis to measure humans’ subjective accounts of their well-being. Most of the differences in happiness among countries and regions result from six key variables:  (1) GDP per capita; (2) healthy years of life expectancy; (3) social support (e.g., having someone to count on in times of trouble); (4) trust (as absence of corruption in government and business); (5) perceived freedom to make life decisions; and (6) generosity (e.g., donations to charity). According to the editors of the 2016 update, “increasingly, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy.” A fundamental premise of these ongoing studies is that “subjective well-being provides a broader and more inclusive measure of the quality of life than does income.”

In a chapter entitled “Secular Ethics,” Richard Layard, director of the Well-Being Programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Center for Economic Performance, describes three propositions that comprise the “greatest happiness principle”:

1. Human progress should be assessed by the extent to which individuals are enjoying their lives. Enjoyment is defined by the prevalence of happiness and the absence of misery.

2. The objective of governments should be to create the conditions for the greatest possible happiness and the least possible misery.

3. Likewise, every individual has an obligation to create the greatest amount of human happiness in the world and the least misery.

The greatest happiness principle calls for us to care not only about our own wellbeing, but also about the wellbeing of others. Layard states that human nature is both selfish and altruistic. Moreover, he argues that we need an ethical system to promote the altruist within us over the egotist. Historically, ethical codes of conduct have come from various sources, most especially religious traditions. Layard maintains that, “In an ever more secular society, we urgently need non-religious organisations which promote ethical living in a way that provides inspiration, uplift, joy and mutual support—through regular meetings of like-minded people.” Such organizations need not be anti-religious; they simply need to provide a structure that will allow for the actualization of the greatest happiness principle.

While there are numerous organizations that can provide such inspiration, uplift, joy, and mutual support, I would like to propose that the workplace provides the greatest opportunity to create these conditions. For the majority of employed people, the workplace is where they spend most of their waking time. In a sense, workplaces create their ethical codes of conduct. Workplaces have cultures, characterized by values (whether explicit or implicit), and policies. For most people, the type of work they do, those with whom they work, and the rewards of work (monetary and otherwise) are fundamental to their sense of wellbeing and happiness.

What can leaders learn from the World Happiness Report? Income matters to employees, but other factors are more important to fostering a sense of wellbeing. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink uses decades of research to argue that the secret to high performance and satisfaction is the human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to improve ourselves and our world. Pink and others found that monetary rewards work best when the task is simple and straightforward. However, once even rudimentary cognitive skills are involved, larger rewards actually led to poorer performance. Pink found that granting people autonomy and self-direction actually improves engagement with the task and others. He argues that for most people, mastery is also a motivation:  we by nature want to get better at what we do. Lastly, people are motivated by purpose—they want to know that what they do matters. I call this type of work meaningful work; and it matters not only in terms of motivation, but also to one’s sense of wellbeing—one’s happiness.

A basic question for leaders is whether the culture of the departments, units, schools, and organizations they lead values autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Policies should foster self-direction. Vision, mission, and values must be discussed, debated, implemented, and lived. The leader’s attitudes and behavior should be consistent with espoused values of individual worth. The leader cannot possibly ensure that a given employee feels happy all of the time, or that the employee has all of his or her desires met. However, the leader does have a responsibility to create a meaningful workplace. If we return to Layard’s three propositions comprising the greatest happiness principle and apply them to our organizations, the leadership challenge might take the form of these questions:

1. What am I doing to ensure that people enjoy working here?

2. How do I create the conditions (culture, opportunities, etc.) where people can grow, thrive, and make meaningful contributions?

3. How can our organization maximize its purpose to make the community and the world a better place?

I would offer that happiness and wellbeing are not only “a proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy,” but should also serve as a measure of the work environment and the societal goal of our schools and businesses.


N. Karl Haden, Ph.D.
President of AAL & co-author of The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders and 31 Days with the Virtues

How to Deal with Dissent

How to Deal with Dissent

When it comes to dissent, my perspective is perhaps somewhat unusual if not unique. As a middle manager for 20 years, I often encountered dissent when presenting and enforcing policies that in some cases I didn’t agree with, either. And as someone who has also been middle-managed, I have on occasion played the role of dissident myself.

In both situations, I’ve had many opportunities to observe how various leaders, from managers to presidents, have dealt with dissent. Three strategies seem to be most common.

Some leaders try to punish or make examples of people who openly disagree with them. They might be somewhat limited in what they can do, because of union protections, EEOC regulations, or (in the case of college faculty) tenure, but managers can always find ways to make someone’s life miserable, if they want to: less-than-desirable assignments; arbitrary denial of legitimate requests; sudden, strict application of previously ignored “policies.”

This is a risky tactic, because at some point it becomes apparent to everyone what’s going on. Of course, some managers might think that’s a good thing, that occasionally you have to “knock some heads” in order to get everyone else to “fall in line.” But what often happens is that even those employees who basically agree with the manager, or who don’t care for the dissident personally, begin, over time, to side with him or her against what they regard as petty and vindictive treatment.

Meanwhile, the manager in question may find his or her moral authority slowly draining away. That’s why, in my experience, those who take this approach often end up being more damaged professionally than the person they set out to punish.

Another way some managers deal with dissidents is simply by ignoring them–and I mean ignoring them altogether. They don’t speak to them, don’t respond to their e-mails, don’t acknowledge them in any way. They decline to put them on committees or other working groups, refuse to recommend them for assignments, and fail to recognize their positive accomplishments. In short, they act as if they don’t exist.

This strategy, too, is unlikely to work, because it’s almost impossible to completely ignore people who work in your department. In fact, truly committed dissidents are often especially difficult to ignore, because they’re always in your face. Trying to act as if they don’t exist is liable to infuriate them even more, leading to further confrontations. Also, even dissidents (and sometimes especially dissidents) make positive contributions, and the manager who refuses to acknowledge as much ends up looking like a churl.

Lastly, some leaders deal with dissidents by attempting to win them over, to co-opt them and thus bring them into the fold. This is often accomplished through bribery, by offering them choice assignments or placing them on “key” committees where–perhaps after many years–their voices will at long last be heard. Or so they think. In reality, this is usually just a ploy, an attempt to make the dissident think that he or she has a legitimate opportunity to effect change when in fact the outcome has already been determined and leadership has no intention of considering opposing viewpoints.

The reason this strategy usually fails is that few genuine dissidents fall for it, and those who do end up angrier than ever once it’s clear that they don’t really have a voice.

The best and most effective leaders eschew all three of these strategies. Instead, they try to treat dissidents, as much as possible, just like everyone else. Such leaders tend to be open-minded, inclusive, and collaborative anyway–that’s what makes them effective–and so they listen to dissenting voices just as much as they listen to any other voices–no more, perhaps, but certainly no less.

In the end, these leaders may end up making decisions that the dissidents approve of, because (and let’s not lose sight of this point) the dissidents are often right. But even when they make decisions contrary to the dissenting point of view, at least the dissidents feel that their voices have been heard, that they’ve been taken seriously, and that they are free to speak out again on the next issue.

Indeed, the very best leaders welcome a healthy dissent, because it keeps them honest and because they understand that, if no one is questioning what they’re doing, they’re probably not doing anything worthwhile.


Rob Jenkins

Professor, AAL Senior Fellow, co-author of The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders

Transforming People and Organizations: The Nexus of Leading and Learning

Transforming People and Organizations: The Nexus of Leading and Learning

As summer approaches, so do a number of Academy for Advancing Leadership professional development programs. Some of these programs are focused on leadership development and others address pedagogy and developing the skills of a master teacher.

While the program curricula differ, leading and learning exist in a nexus. Effective teachers not only convey knowledge and facilitate discovery; through role modeling and mentoring they affect students’ attitudes, behaviors, and career aspirations. For many of us a teacher stands out as a singular influence in shaping both our character and our vocation—and that is leadership.

Likewise, effective leaders encourage us to learn new things, to question our assumptions, to grow through challenging ourselves and others, and to make a difference. The titles and job descriptions are different, but teachers are leaders and leaders are teachers.

Largely due to the research of James McGregor Burns, leadership theory has focused much attention over the past three decades on “transformative” or “transformational” leadership. Leadership is about creating meaning, inculcating values, and transforming people and organizations. In their book Leadership that Matters, Sashkin and Sashkin identify four specific transformational leadership behaviors.

First, by using communication skills, transformational leaders actively listen, provide useful feedback, and convey complex ideas clearly. They are masters of creating and using metaphors to explain and inspire. Second, through consistent and credible actions, transformational leaders build trust. They keep promises, meet commitments, and tell the truth. Third, transformational leaders care about people. Caring includes respecting differences and valuing special skills and abilities. It’s reflected in simple things like knowing people by name. Finally, transformational leaders create opportunities by developing followers and making sure they have the requisite knowledge, skills, and resources needed to succeed. Transformational leadership is about fostering an environment in which people can learn and grow.

I have seen these behaviors in those who effectively lead universities, colleges and schools, and departments. But I have also experienced them in the classroom, in the actions of those who had no formal administrative or positional appointment. Teachers transform their classrooms, labs, and clinics as they engage the learners for whom they have accepted responsibility. Leading and learning always occur together as complementary ways of transforming people and organizations.


N. Karl Haden, Ph.D.
President of AAL & co-author of The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders and 31 Days with the Virtues
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging: Challenges and Crucial Conversations

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging: Challenges and Crucial Conversations

While the month of February marks Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day, it is also designated as the month to honor the triumphs and struggles of the African diaspora communities throughout American history. This period of observance serves as a time to reflect on Black culture and recognize Black achievement. Like many other annual observances, the time can represent a micro-moment spotlight or a lasting imprint. The intent is to hope for the latter, with society’s increased focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). In 2017, the American Council on Education expressed the position Diversity is no longer simply a question of moral and social responsibility, but a matter of achieving excellence and gaining competitive advantages in the world we live in today.” Positioning Black History Month as an opportunity to listen, understand, appreciate, and learn more is another opportunity to build and sustain inclusive excellence.

The reality is leaders, educators, and professionals may experience information overload. There is the intent to make a difference or to be the change this world needs but questions come to the surface, i.e., What to do next? When is the “right” time to start an initiative? Why the continued focus on DEIB? How to obtain continuous support? These are but a few. It is easy to speak about what needs to be done or identify what needs to change, but challenges arise hindering tangible action and sustainable change to achieve inclusive excellence.

There are times when the intricate institutional culture, policies, and procedures in work and educational environments make DEIB efforts seem like drops in a leaky bucket. As a result, some professionals discover it is easier to remain silent; ignore the presence of discrimination; overlook the perceptions of exclusion; excuse preferential treatment; dismiss the incivility; and above all do not rock the boat. For some, their rationale is that the stress cracks in these complicated structures have existed long before these individuals arrived and will never go away. Although silence in the name of self-preservation may be a sentiment they endorse, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cautions, “Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Thus, the role of leadership includes enhancing the effectiveness of DEIB efforts.

With the subject of diversity still causing politically sensitive and highly charged reactions, leaders may feel moments of uncertainty about missteps in DEIB areas with the constant challenge of finding ways to ensure everyone is valued and treated with respect. Patterson et al. state crucial conversations tend to involve high stakes discussion, varying opinions, and strong emotions. Leaders are charged to have crucial conversations to remove the barriers to inclusive excellence, deal with issues others are not prepared to handle, and address matters causing potential or actual tensions. As Angie Thomas wrote, “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re going to be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” Considering this idea another way, what is the point of leading if you’re not going to speak your truth, be authentic, and use your influence in moments your presence is needed?

Building and sustaining inclusive excellence involves listening to and recognizing the strengths of others as well as speaking up so that, at every level, behaviors are practiced that support inclusion, justice, and belonging in health education communities. With such leadership steps, leaders will position themselves to activate change, reorganize infrastructures, build accountability systems, assess processes, and establish tangible collaborations in DEIB efforts–one step and one day at a time.


Felicia L. Tucker-Lively, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Vice President, AAL


Aysola, Jaya et al. “Perceptions of Factors Associated with Inclusive Work and Learning Environments in Health Care Organizations: A Qualitative Narrative Analysis.” JAMA network open vol. 1,4 e181003. 3 Aug. 2018, doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.1003

Munoz, Juan, et al. Climate Matters: Campus Leadership for Educational Success. Diversity & Democracy, AA&CU 17(4), 2014.

Patterson, Kerry, et al.  Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. McGraw-Hill Contemporary, 2002.

Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Walker Books, 2017.

Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents., 2020.

Williams, Damon. Strategic Diversity Leadership: Activating Change and Transformation in Higher Education. Stylus Publishing, 2013

How to Develop and Evaluate a Mentoring Program

How to Develop and Evaluate a Mentoring Program

Many institutions in the health professions have discovered the power of a well-run mentoring program. Mentoring can provide exceptional benefits, such as increased promotion and retention rates, higher faculty satisfaction, improved faculty development, better results in obtaining grants and publishing research, and more trust in the sponsoring institution. See, for example, “Mentorship in Medicine and Other Health Professions” and “Developing a Culture of Mentorship to Strengthen Academic Medical Centers.”

Developing an effective mentoring program is not overly difficult, but it does require thoughtful planning and sustained attention to ensure that faculty buy into the program and find it valuable. If your institution is interested in developing mentoring, the essential steps are provided below.

  1. Ensure support of the leader of the area implementing the mentoring program, discern his or her goals in developing the program, and gauge support of his or her boss. If the immediate leader is not interested in mentoring, such a program will be much more difficult. When instituting any change, the support of the leader’s boss is always very helpful, especially if resources are required.
  2. Undertake a needs assessment of faculty. This can take multiple forms such as individual interviews of key stakeholders, group interviews by faculty rank, online surveys, and even whole faculty meetings to receive input and generate interest.
  3. Administer personal assessments to all faculty. Frequently these instruments measure such constructs as communication style, workstyle, and/or team orientation. These results can be very helpful in matching mentees and mentors and particularly in assisting pairs to develop a strong relationship.
  4. Discuss the results of the needs assessments and personal assessments with leadership and then develop a customized mentoring program based on the results. The program should include a clear consensus on program goals, the structure of the program, training for faculty, an evaluation plan, and thoughtful steps to sustain the program.
  5. Training for faculty is essential to help mentors take a coaching stance in this role (as opposed to simply telling their mentee what to do) and to assist mentees in making optimal use of their mentoring experience. Likely part of the training will include coaching skills, how to use the results of the personal assessments to form effective relationships, role playing with feedback, and whatever other needs are demonstrated in the needs assessment.
  6. Evaluate the outcomes of the mentoring program. The important outcomes should reflect the goals of the program and should be shared with faculty. Adjustments to the program should be made based on mentee and mentor feedback.
    • Typically, there are three types of outcomes. First are the “soft” outcomes like faculty satisfaction, faculty engagement, etc. Those are typically measured by survey. Next are the “hard” outcomes like number of research papers published, dollar value of grants received, etc. Those outcomes are usually measured by counting, like papers/dollars/number of faculty publishing, and comparing these figures to the same measures prior to implementing the mentoring program. Finally, a third set of outcomes relates more to the institution, such as promotion or retention rate, feeling supported by the institution, etc. These can be measured by counts or survey. The important part is that the outcomes are measures directly related to the goals for setting up the mentoring program.
  7. Finally, the leader needs to ensure steps are in place to make the program sustainable, not a one-time (“one and done”) training exercise. These steps can include the leader role-modeling coaching skills, support for mentoring such as providing coupons for coffee during mentoring meetings, building mentoring into existing systems such as annual reviews, reinforcement of observed mentoring, and booster sessions for faculty.

If you are interested in developing a mentoring program for one department, a school/college within the university, or the whole institution, assistance is available. AAL faculty have extensive experience in developing mentoring programs for the academic health professions and are available to consult with you. Just reach out to us at so we can discuss how your institution can support faculty to help reach your goals of increased faculty retention and satisfaction, bringing in more grant dollars and research, and/or improving trust in your organization.

Dee Ramsel, PhD, MBA