Web Leadership’s Role in Higher Ed

Last week, I was fortunate enough to graduate in the second annual Pittsburg State University Leadership Class.  This is a program modeled after other similar programs around the state and nation, programs which are designed to groom and cultivate forward minded people into folks capable of stepping up and contributing to the growth and development of the university (Does your university have a leadership program for employees? If so, be sure to mention it in the comments, they seem to be fairly rare.).  About sixteen of us spent the past two semesters meeting once a month to listen to state and community leaders, do exercises, and discuss ways to better position ourselves to impact those around us (not to mention it looks great on a curriculum vitae!).

As I walked back to my office Friday afternoon, certificate in hand, I got to thinking about how critical leadership can be in a web office, and how our role at a university puts us in a position unique from almost anywhere else on campus.  First, it’s important to stress that real leadership isn’t about power, it’s about service.  I cannot stress that enough.  Almost more than in any other profession, in higher education when you are willing to take a leadership role, it means truly committing and putting yourself out there above and beyond your job description.  Maybe you’re sitting on extra committees, coordinating efforts, or taking part in things like a classified senate.  Regardless, becoming a leader requires you to commit beyond your job description and to give yourself over to serving others with the skills you have.  It isn’t just about being in charge of a bunch of people and telling them what to do.  Being a boss and being a leader are different creatures.

The reason we are in such a unique position is because of how connected we are across campus.  Public relations knows a lot of stuff, so does Advancement.  Ultimately, however, most of these entities are limited and restricted from certain aspects of campus.  The web, however, is different.  I’ve stressed before that a good web office sits under neither Marketing, nor PR, nor IT.  Instead, it should be between them all.  A hub, not a spoke.  When you serve as the hub, all things go through you.  PR isn’t particularly interested in the syllabus posting needs of faculty, or the photo gallery requirements of Athletics.  IT… well, they’re IT.  And Marketing’s main goal is to get students and money on campus.  All of them have on blinders.

We can’t work that way.  Recently, a group of about six offices came to me wanting a solution for doing things like storefronts, taking donations, and otherwise using the web to make money.  Great idea, that, because obviously with budgets getting cut, the more we can do to make easy money, the better.  It just so happens that with our web ear to the wall, we discovered at that exact time the Budgeting Office was meeting with vendors for a billing and payment processing system for campus.  Without that connectedness, this first group would have been in the dark, and we would have ended up with two different groups doing two totally different things towards basically the same goal, and spending way more money than necessary.  Instead, we stepped in, got people involved, and worked it out so everyone could benefit from a single tool.

It’s situations like that which have lead me to declare that any time I ever hear the word “web” or “internet” mentioned, I simply inject myself into the meetings and discussion.  If I don’t, there’s no one else here that is, and more often than not the result is people making less than well informed decisions.  In the case of the payment software, I didn’t necessarily have an obligation to step in and put the two groups together, but I knew that action would better serve them, the campus, and my office.  It’s no new thing that on a big campus, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, but a leadership minded web office can serve as the nervous system that sends signals to both, and gets them working together to do things like play the guitar.  Metaphorically speaking, of course.

We all have a ton on our plates, no doubt.  But these small things and actions can go a long way to proving and solidifying the importance of a well resourced web office.  Imagine the money that could be saved when web steps in with recommendations for taking certain data operations online, or like in my case, when they hear two different groups working towards the same goal.  Imagine the time that is saved.  No one else has as many feelers out there as we do, and that leaves us in a prime position to take a leadership role, and help serve the campus to keep it running straight and efficiently.  Pick your metaphor: we’re the nervous system, we feel the pulse, we sense the weather changing – it all comes down to knowing how much we can do and offer for campus, even if you don’t have to.

Photo Credit: CC BY 2.0 pedrosimoes7