Education Technology Uncategorized

Gravitas and Grit: How IT Leaders Inspire Peak Performance


  • Dianna Sadlouskos, Strategic Alliance Partner, Next Generation Executive Search
  • Joanna Young, Principal, JCYCIO
  • Melissa Woo, Senior Vice President for IT & CIO, Stony  Brook University
  • Brendan Guenther, Director for Academic Technology, Michigan State University
  • Russell Beard, Vice President of Information Technology, Bellevue Colllege

NOTE: any errors, omissions or inadvertent misrepresentations are completely my fault. This conversation moved quickly and there was a lot of audience participation my fingers weren’t quite quick enough to catch – I beg your indulgence, dear reader. – Paul

DS: No powerpoint today (yay!), we’re focusing on conversation today. Provided definition of “Grit” by Angela Duckworth (too long to capture).

DS – Question 1: How would you translate grit into your own personal path to leadership?

MW: “stick-to-it-iveness” was the key for me. I went through so many search committees, it was crazy. I incorporated feedback from coaches. Ask for feedback!

JY: first CIO job I applied for was an abject failure. The search consultant’s feedback was really helpful…it was tough, but amazingly helpful advice. Over prepare!  Every meeting you have with your president is a new interview.

RB: you have to have the ability to be patient and learn to breathe.

DS – Any essential grit stories to share?

(Audience member) It’s not only about grit, it’s about the people surrounding you. So many people said “you were great!” which was not helpful as I needed. I interviewed for 13 jobs before I got the one I have now. Just keep going.

DS: just because you don’t get a job, it’s OK, you may still be a very good candidate…you’e not a failure!

DS – Do you think that Grit is something you can develop in people?

BG: I think so. Everyone hits bumps in the road, sometimes you don’t bring the right people onto your team, you have to be able to adapt.

MW: you have to consider tough love. I tend to force people into projects that they are not comfortable with so that they have the opportunity to grow.

JY: job for life is no longer the case. You have to be able to force yourself into a role you’ve never had before. I had no telecom in my background, but I ended up running the largest broadband project in my state (having “wicked smaht” people around me was a great help).

DS – Interest and Practice: is there a difference in how you guide development of these attributes in mid-level managers versus millenials?

BG: the things that you are (where and how you grew up, etc.) have a lot to do with how you think.

JY: I now work for a millenial, someone I hired as an intern. We are learning so much from one another…he is completely fearless. People earlier in their career tend to have a higher degree of confidence (let ’em fail fast and learn fast). However, I want to give them guide rails to keep them from crashing and burning.

MW: at a conference I was at last week, keynote was about “radical candor.” Millenials are not as delicate as you think! Treat them as they are early career.

DS – is there advice you can give the group about how you inspire practice in aspiring leaders?

(Audience member) I don’t give advice, I ask a lot of questions. People with good social IQ pick up on what you’re doing, and will work through things in their head. Set parameters “here’s where I don’t want you to go.”

(Audience member) Give the person permission to fail, but coach them back to success.

DS – How to inspire mid-level managers to engage and re-invigorate their interest?

JY: get a different job and/or a different team.

RB: you’re prepared and need to manifest the presence to perform.

How does talent versus effort impact leaders?

JY: effort is great, but you need to apply effort effectively. Don’t use a teaspoon when a backhoe is the tool you really need. Talent is like a big “T” – you may have depth in tech, but you need to have breadth in business, how your campus works and more.

BG: you have to have the ability to identify talent. For effort, being able to identify the right talent sets among different people to work together.

DS: Can you share examples of staff who were talented but struggled?

DS: Tiger Woods vs. John McEnroe

JY: some of those staff are people who run with scissors who are very talented but are a danger to themselves. Often these people think of themselves as the smartest people in the room.

(Audience member) the smartest people in the room biggest issue is the fact that many of them are unable to be coached.

(Audience member) Coaching those team members is really helpful. For my team, when hiring, the skillset comes second to the ability to work within a team.

JY: rhetorical question: what’s more important: technical skills, or ability to work with faculty? (scattered callouts of “faculty”).

MW: you need to be able to have the difficult conversations to people.

RB: Honest feedback is important and one of the most important things we do as leaders.

How do you encourage staff to take risks and grow?

JY: influence your environment to make failure acceptable, so long as learning occurs.

BG: our role as coach/mentor is to help our staff pull the layers of failure apart so as to teach lessons that they can grow from. You HAVE to be there when your people fail.

RB: questions like “you should think about” were great, not prescribing solutions was important for me.


My EDUCAUSE 2013 Mega Post

One the things I try to do when I attend conferences is to make a detailed record of all the sessions I attend, with the exception of keynotes, which tend to get really good coverage from other folks.  I live blog the events as I attend them, which hopefully helps those who committed to other sessions, and then I do one of these “mega posts,” which summarize all the posts I attended.  Based on my itinerary, 2013 seems to be the year of big data and analytics.  I’m willing to bet a lot of my fellow attendees will agree 🙂

I’ve been in higher education for just over seven years now, and somewhat amazingly, this was the very first EDUCAUSE event I’ve ever attended.  Why didn’t anyone tell me about this conference?  It was an extremely worthwhile event, at least for me…one of the meetings I had will likely save my division close to $50,000 each year!  That savings will go a long way toward providing students at CSUN with more and/or better services.  There were lots of great sessions to attend, with lots of smart folks sharing what they’re doing with IT on their campuses.  I’ll definitely be back next year.

Without any further ado, here’s my EDUCAUSE 2013 mega-post…please drop me a line and let me know if this helps you!


Friday, October 18 (last day of EDUCAUSE was a half day)


Thursday, October 17 (my busiest day)


Wednesday, October 16 (spent a few hours prowling the vendor floor and visiting with my accessibility colleagues)


Tuesday, October 15 (each session was a half-day long)



Climbing the Leadership Ladder: An Insider’s View of the CIO Search Process

Title:  Climbing the Leadership Ladder: An Insider’s View of the CIO Search Process


  • Dianna Sadlouskos, Strategic Alliance Partner, Next Generation Executive Search, LLC
  • Philip J. Goldstein, Managing Partner, Next Generation Executive Search, LLC


This firm has done about 18 CIO successful searches, and is here to provide career coaching and observations to address the three what institutions want (candidate profile), making your case, managing your career.

The whole process starts with a consultative process with the institution about what they actually need.  It’s hopefully heavily influenced by institutional priorities.  It also includes thing “top of mind” with presidents and provosts.  Often, these folks think executive search firms have three boxes of the following types of IT pros to pull from:

  1. Optimizer:  delivers continuous improvement to IT
  2. Transformer:  early adopter of technologies, reforms and refocuses IT
  3. Strategist:  shapes institutional and IT strategies

IMPORTANT:  the institution needs a clear sense of what they’re looking for.


SLIDE:  Evolving Emphasis


  • Improve service
  • Contain costs
  • Run large technology/ process change projects
  • Provide technical leadership
  • manage Risk


  • Catalyze innovative pedagogy and enable student success
  • Enhance research competitiveness
  • Optimize central and distributed IT
  • Set sourcing strategy
  • Create sustainability


SLIDE:  Building your Brand

  • Personal Brand:  defined professional profile
  • Value:  Manage your reputation, influence the industry conversation, build a cohort community
  • Brand Attributes:  Authentic, energetic, connected, intellectual curiosity

Use of social media counts!  It’s important how you view yourself, and you have a real hand in developing your own reputation by influencing or even leading relationship-building activities.  Be true to yourself and your intentions.

Start with 3-tiered approach:  Study > Share > Build

What are other CIOs doing?  How do I want to set up my own profile and how does it resonate with the three CIO types above?  For example, if you’re interested in student success and retention, there are certainly groups you can join that will help you get up-to-speed.  Eventually, you will be able to create community with like-minded people whose ideas resonate with you.  Share your slide decks with tools like slideshare…chances are good that your experience will help someone else.

Shared some of the top CIOs using social media:

  • Baz Abouelenein
  • Phil Komarny
  • Stephen DeFilipo
  • Tim Chester

Be consistent in how you represent yourself!


SLIDE:  Presenting your Brand

If possible, arrange to be recruited

Ask for an informational interview first

Prepare a concise, tailored resume

  • quantify accomplishments
  • tailor description of experience

Cover letters aren’t perfunctory

  • Establish the basis for your interest
  • Highlight significant, relevant accomplishments
  • Proactively address anomalies


SLIDE:  Cover Letter Tips

  • Customize for each opportunity
  • Organize content:  beginning, middle, end
  • Focus on specific experiences in your background that align with this role
  • Anticipate questions, explain gaps
  • Minimize jargon
  • Proofread / read aloud

Your cover letter should tell a compelling story!


SLIDE:  Resume

  • Customize to each opportunity
  • Establish scope and scale of your position
  • Include a professional profile
  • Highlight significant accomplishments
  • Don’t forget the fundamentals

First 5-7 sentences should conjure an image of you.  PDF your cover letter WITH your resume.  If you’re telling a compelling story, length of resume is not that important.  HOWEVER, four pages is a good practical limit that most people will not read beyond.  Be sure to include enough detail, and don’t “bury the lede.”


SLIDE:  Search Committee Interview

Committees are testing candidates on multiple levels

  • Depth of experience and knowledge
  • Ability to communicate clearly and persuasively
  • Personality, energy and style
  • Leadership presence

The interview is an audition for

  • How you would interact with cabinet or board
  • What you are like as a colleague
  • How you perform under pressure


SLIDE:  Typical Questions

  • Why do you want this job?  (people often stumble over this one)
  • How have you failed and what did you learn?
  • What resources will you need to be successful?
  • How do you develop a culture of service?
  • How do you optimize the relationship between central and distributed IT?
  • How can tech help institutions gain a a comparative advantage in research?
  • How do you quickly spread innovative uses of academic technologies?

When you failed, what did you learn?  How are you a better leader for taking a risk?  That question is not a trap!


SLIDE:  Managing Your Career

Essential Experiences you must be able to articulate:

  • Build the depth of your experience
  • Plan – for an institution, org, or service
  • Vision – get the institution, a department or individuals to stretch
  • Prioritize – demonstrate how you apply scarce resources to maximize impace
  • Lead – develop eople, build cpacity, challenge your team
  • Influence – create change without authority
  • Deliver – continuously improves services


SLIDE:  If you are a Rising CIO

  • Build experience working outside your primary portfolio:  within IT, outside of IT
  • Develop a point of view on broader higher education and IT isssues
  • Proactively addres predicatble areas of doubt – leadership, strategy, risk
  • Seek opportunities that align with your deepest area of experience

Be able to proactively answer the question:  “are you ready yet?”  This is something that senior leadership teams will want to know.


SLIDE:  If you’re an experienced CIO

  • Continue to broaden your experience – research, instruction, consituent engagement
  • Refine your point of view on key issues in IT and higher education
  • Demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively across the organization
  • Develop your rising leaders
  • Articulate your key accomplishments

Strike up conversations with people who are leaders in areas you need to brush up on.  It pays off in two ways:  proves your a good leader and it helps your institution function better.



How many clients were willing to hire the rising CIO rather than the sitting CIO?  About 20%.  What got them the job was their area of primary expertise lined up with the needs of the university and they had the soft skill nailed.  They had actually worked in larger organizations, and were taking a step back.  You have to be aware the key issues the institution is facing.

What’s the best way to represent 20 years of consulting work in a resume?  You want to include in your introduction details that explains the value of consulting, i.e. diversity of experience.  Clearly articulate your accomplishments and be laser-focused with how those accomplishments align with representative examples that align with the institution you’re interviewing with.

What about “jumping Carnegie classes?”  Depends on the scale and complexity of the operation you’ve run.  For example, if going from a community college to a research university.

Where should people look for opportunities (since not all are advertised)?  Look at aggregators and cultivate search firms.  Read the job posting in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Create a network of colleagues at EDUCAUSE and other places…endorsements can be extremely valuable and will give you the inside track on opportunities you might not otherwise hear about.



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