Key Competencies of an Effective Dean

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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Business school deans weigh in on the qualities needed to effectively do their jobs.
Featuring David De Cremer, Northeastern University; Lisa Ordóñez, University of California, San Diego; Francisco Veloso, INSEAD; and Mariëlle Heijltjes, Maastricht University
  • To ensure their business schools remain relevant and impactful, deans must listen to the changing needs of society and take action to cultivate solutions to complex challenges.
  • Leadership in a business school demands not only strategic insight and operational knowledge but also the ability to create a collaborative and motivated environment, ensuring all stakeholders are aligned with the institution's vision.
  • Understanding diverse perspectives and maintaining an open-minded approach helps deans foster a cohesive and forward-thinking community.


David De Cremer: [0:15] What is the most effective quality for a business school dean? I think first of all, you have to be willing to listen. That's especially a critical task today because business schools are being challenged in their usefulness and their meaningfulness for society today.

[0:34] If you look in the US, for example, there's a lot of discussion on fake science, on what is happening with university, what is happening with our education, so we need to be responsive to this. We need to be able to listen, but also be adaptive and translate this into, "This is the direction we're going to walk so that we become part of creating solutions for bigger problems."

[0:55] I think that's, today, for a business school dean, an extremely important skill to do. Listening, putting it in context, and communicating where we want to go.

Lisa Ordóñez: [1:05] Communication is the most important skill that any dean can have. I can do all kinds of wonderful things, and if my community doesn't understand what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, and I'm not communicating well, then it won't be as effective as if they can understand what I'm doing.

Communication is the most important skill that any dean can have.

Francisco Veloso: [1:28] I think the most effective competency of a dean is like in many leadership roles, to bring your community along. While I think this is particularly relevant for any leader position and any leadership position, I think it has an outside saliency in the context of a dean because faculty are fiercely independent.

[1:56] They chose this profession because of that independence, because of that freedom of research, freedom of education. That means that when you want to take your organization in a particular direction, you really need to bring along and motivate the people that are with you, of course, your staff, but in important ways, your faculty members.

[2:16] You cannot tell a faculty member what to do. You need to convince her or him of the impact, the opportunity, the benefit that it can come out of a particular direction. That means that ability to motivate, and to engage, and to bring along the community gains this particular saliency in the context of a dean role.

[2:38] Of course, many other qualities that are required for any leadership role, you need to understand where you're going, you need to understand the processes and what you're doing, all of that. This element of motivation and bringing the community along is particularly salient in the role of a dean.

That ability to motivate, and to engage, and to bring along the community gains this particular saliency in the context of a dean role.

Mariëlle Heijltjes: [2:55] It's a real skill to be able to understand different perspectives because it requires this open-mindedness, and every academic will say they're open-minded. Actually, in leadership development programs that I did, we work with that.

[3:09] It's not so obvious that you're open-minded because once you hear something, you judge. It's an automatic reflex. To stall that reflex and keep listening and asking questions before you know, "OK, that's what you mean," and "OK, this is how you interpret and perceive where we're going to," so that everybody really is on the same page to move forward.

[3:30] That's something that is taken for granted often, that it happens, but you have to make it explicit for it to really happen.

The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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