The Paradoxical provost

Following is an excerpt from an essay published in Inside Higher Ed that I co-wrote with my colleague and friend Karlyn Crowley, provost at Ohio Wesleyan University.

“As we’ve moved through an academic year unlike any we’ve experienced before, we’ve heard calls for strong leadership and an ability to navigate through the “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous) world we now inhabit. Certainly, the two of us, having started our roles as provosts in the midst of the global pandemic and the summer of 2020’s racial reckoning, have felt our share of stress as new leaders. But over the months, we’ve also learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when trying to lead during a crisis…

“…These mega-crises demand we lead differently. A pattern we have most noticed is the paradoxical nature of leadership in this moment: while some of the old rules may still apply, they come with new meaning and inherent contradictions. For example, leadership, especially in higher education administration, is often thought of as mostly a cognitive exercise; we often don’t talk about topics like vulnerability, care and compassion in our work. But emotions have always played a major part in effective leadership — and they especially do so now. We call this new form of paradoxical provosting relational leadership, and here’s what we have learned that it requires us as leaders to do…”

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