Dr. Shana Garrett, Dean, College of Psychology and Community Services at Walden University

Dr. Garrett is an authentic leader within the higher education industry with the savvy for talent and business assessments involving dynamic situations and challenges while focusing on results and strategic resolutions. She advocates for education, personal and professional growth, and discovering one’s authentic self through the challenges of academic pursuits. Her passion for education is not limited to the interactions with faculty and students but also her investment in the human capital within the education experience. Her development of a “pure heart” leadership approach came from the realization that most of the time, the situation was not personal but more about being a part of the solution to the work resolution or problem. Dr. Garrett is an intentional and innovative sage who develops communities to support individuals and teams to deliver personal, professional, and organizational productivity.


At its core, leadership is managing people and completing strategic and tactical organizational deliverables. Being a leader is demanding: it’s an endless churn of making decisions and managing a variety of personalities (and all those current moods), all while trying to gain clarity and insight into complicated problems requiring quick, efficient, and often repetitive challenges. More often than not, leaders learn through mixed methods: past experiences, personal and professional mentoring, individual professional development, or simply by trial and error. As leaders, we work to cultivate our unique leadership style by investing in professional development, collective efforts with a mentor, or simply making choices in opposition to what we have experienced from our previous supervisors. All in all, leadership development is complex, individualistic, and in a continual state of achievement.

Authentic leadership within higher education can be a powerful force towards transformation and effective governance. Within higher education, where the mission often involves the development of students, the pursuit of knowledge, and the advancement of society, authentic leadership has a significant impact on the institutional teams and the students.

Are you leading authentically? Consider the below milestones when reflecting upon your current leadership approach- see what resonates, what can be strengthened, as well as what can be incorporated into your techniques:

  • Communication and Collaboration: This is a hallmark of authentic leadership. Leaders who communicate openly and transparently enhance collaboration and cooperation among different departments while fostering a culture of shared governance.
  • Ethical Decision-Making: Making well-informed decisions based upon a strong ethical foundation. Commitment to integrity ensures that decisions are based upon available specifics, regardless of personal preferences, and aligned with the institution’s values.
  • Trust and Credibility: Building trust and credibility among faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders by consistently demonstrating honesty, ethical behaviors, and an environment that is psychologically safe and supportive.
  • Organizational Culture: Contribute by demonstrating an openness and willingness to foster a climate where diverse perspectives are valued, innovation is encouraged, and collaboration is promoted. Supporting community engagement wherein the leader connects the institution with the broader community by seeking input from various stakeholders, building partnerships, and positioning the university as a responsible and contributing member of society.
  • Resilience in Times of Change: Higher education is subject to constant change, whether in response to technological advancements, shifts in student demographics, or other external factors. Authentic leaders navigate these changes with resilience, adaptability, and a focus on maintaining the institution’s core values.
  • Empowerment and Development: Authentic leaders empower others to reach their full potential. Providing mentorship, encouraging professional development opportunities, and creating an environment where individuals feel inspired to take on challenges and contribute to the institution’s growth.

Elevating from awareness to individual authentic leadership is shifting attention to incorporating a more progressive and optimistic approach to considering how leadership strategies are conceived, communicated, and executed. Starting with all levels of leadership and extending throughout the institution, it can be challenging to shift an organizational culture to one of innovation, positive influences, and contributions while also being focused on the institution’s well-being (staff, faculty, and students).

Leading with positive intention can:

  • Cultivate Positive Culture: Cultures grounded in promoting tenets of collaboration, inclusivity, and, most importantly, transparency tend to be more innovative. Institutions then reflect a culture encouraging community, effective communication, and creative learning.
  • Innovation and Creativity: Leading creates an environment where new ideas, creative problem-solving, and calculated risks are encouraged, fostered, and supported. Individuals need to feel empowered to shift from feelings of vulnerability to those of empowerment and support. When executed well, advancement in facilitation in education, operational processes, and overall institutional effectiveness can flourish.
  • Effective Communication: Cornerstone of leadership proficiencies. This is the ability to be approachable, transparent, vulnerable, and open to feedback. All four components are utilized in various strategies at all times. Communication builds trust and ensures the institution’s vision, goals, and strategies are known and the deliverables are successfully completed.
  • Adaptation to Change: Higher education is all about constant change: curriculum, programs, technology, and the evolving human capital. Through the continuous stream of change, leaders provide vision, clear communication, and guidance to keep stakeholders in the decision-making process and to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving educational landscape.
  • Community Building: Positive leaders encourage community among faculty, staff, and students. From this community, it creates a supportive network that enhances collaboration and innovation and reinforces a shared commitment to the institution’s mission.
  • Well-Being: Positive leadership recognizes the importance of the well-being of faculty, staff, and students. Leaders who prioritize work-life balance, provide professional development opportunities, and support mental and physical health contribute to a healthier and more satisfied academic community.

For every institution, leaders ultimately focus on creating an environment that supports student success while also delivering upon business objectives. This involves providing resources, mentorship, and guidance to staff and students. Authentic leaders who create a positive and supportive organizational culture also contribute to a supportive learning environment, helping students feel engaged and motivated to achieve their academic goals. Positive, authentic leaders shape the overall educational experience, which constructs a thriving academic community.

Within higher education, there is a rich opportunity to generate greater collaboration and genuine partnerships to elevate the outcomes and enhance the academic experience. From the power of authentic leadership affording managers the ability to create a positive, inclusive, and purpose-driven environment to fostering trust, aligning with the mission, empowering individuals, and navigating change with resilience. Leaders set the vision, the mindset, and the course for success based on the leadership of the institutions.


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