Dr. William Marzano, Adjunct Faculty Member, Aurora University and Michele Needham, Executive Director of Waubonsee Community College

Dr. William “Bill” Marzano is a Former Academic Administrator At Waubonsee Community College In Sugar Grove, Illinois. He is an Adjunct Faculty Member In Management For Aurora University In Illinois and a Former Psychology Professor.

Michele Needham is the Executive Director of Human Resources at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Illinois.


The American workplace is experiencing a major generational transition in leadership, and the community college system is in the midst of this passage.  Presidents and executive level administrators who are “Baby Boomers” continue to retire.  Senior administrators, who are predominantly “Gen Xers” advance to replace them.  Mid-level administrators progress to fill those vacancies, and fresh recruits to administration will be needed.  Consequently, in the coming decade the system must be replenished with new mid-level administrators who will be predominantly “Millennials.”

AACC Competencies Provide Guidance

To proactively address this looming leadership development challenge, community colleges must reevaluate their current training/development practices.  Fortunately, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) offers the AACC Competencies for Community College Leaders, Third Edition as a comprehensive guide for the development of emerging leaders with an emphasis on the skills necessary to advance student success and to affect institutional transformation. The document contains eleven focus areas, which are specific categories relevant to the internal and external operations of a community college.

Competencies are provided under each focus area and are customized to each of six employee categories: Faculty, Mid-Level Leader, Senior-Level Leaders, Aspiring CEOs, New CEOs, and CEOs.  Furthermore, each competency has an associated “behavior,” which illustrates exactly what that competency means in each of the six employment levels. These behaviors are a “treasure trove” of learning outcomes, which have effectively guided leadership development in the community college system since their introduction.

Returning to the challenge of recruiting a new crop of Mid-Level Leaders, it will be assumed that a majority will emerge from within.  Most community colleges are organized by the major functional divisions of academic affairs, student affairs and operations/finance,with new administrators typically advancing from these areas.  Common examplesare: 1) a faculty member becomes a department chair or assistant dean; 2) a counselor or admission specialist becomes a director; and 3)a staff accountant becomes the director or manager of accounting. For these individuals,the transition into administration will likely be the most difficult one in their career.

Super-worker to Supervisor

As is typical in most organizations, the “super-worker,” i.e., the individual who performs the duties and responsibilities of their job at a superior level, is a prime candidate to become a supervisor.  However, this new supervisor is in for a radical change in the nature of their work. First of all, the individual’s role changes from performer to manager.  Finally, the individual must become conscious of and competent in exerting influence and motivating others.

Meeting these daunting challenges not only determines the individual’s success in his/her present position but also influences the potential for further advancement. Jim Collins, in his 2001 classic bestseller Good to Great, provided a visual depiction of management/leadership development in his Level 5 Hierarchy.  Levels 1 and 2 are the “Super-workers,” who exert a positive influence on the organization even before they assume a formal management position.  Level 4 are senior/executive managers and Level 5 is the chief executive officer.  All these executives are expected to be transformative leaders.  Sandwiched in the middle is Level 3: theCompetent Manager.  One has to become a competent manager before progressing to true leadership, for as Collins asserts, “…fully developed Level 5 leaders embody all five layers of the pyramid.”.

Thus, Level 3 is pivotal and critical.  Whenhighly competent faculty and stafftransition to administrative positionsto become Mid-Level Leaders, they usually need a healthydose of basic management training.  It is likely that many have never been exposed to this content, such as courses in Fundamentals of Management or Supervisory Management.

A Training Proposal

What should this training involve and how can it be delivered? The authors propose two components:  (1) A‘start at square one’ study in management principles and customized training in the administration of policies, practices and procedures specific to the institution.   The second component is regularly addressed by either formal in-service training and/or mentoring. The first component is sometimes overlooked.   Fortunately, the community college is a learning institution and is richly resourced to provide this initial management training. What follows is a description of five resources that a community college can leverage to deliver this professional development.

Credit Course Work:  New Mid-Level Leaders can enrol in core management courses offered by their own institutions.  Selecting three to five from a list including courses such as Fundamentals of Management, Human Resource Management, Supervisory Management, Workplace Communications, and Fundamentals of Finance would provide a solid foundation. The courses could be taken online or at times outside of the administrator’s normal work hours. Additionally, the administrators could share experiences with fellow students from other professions who are experiencing similar challenges in their new roles.

Continuing and Professional Education:  Most community colleges have non-credit divisions that offer a variety of basic management and leadership topics in shorter, workshop formats.

Leadership Academies: An institution can create its own “Leadership Academy” that can provide professional development opportunities for employees, among whom are aspiringMid-Level Leaders.  Illinois’ Waubonsee Community College (WCC) created and offered such an academy formore than six years with great success.  Currently, it is being considered for resurrection with mangers as one target audience with a second model to be  developed for’ aspiring managers’. Also, a number of states nowoffer statewide academies for new administrators.

One example isthe Ohio Association of Community Colleges(OACC) which recently established a Leadership Academy to encourage the development of mid-level administrators in  its system of 23 colleges.

Targeted In-Service Training: As mentioned above, this format is thetraditional mode for delivering customized training in the administration of institutional policies, practices and procedures.Furthermore, it can also be leveraged for training in specialty topics utilizing outside resources.

Formal Mentoring: A senior colleague may be asked to take a new Mid-Level Leader under his/her wing.  A retired, proven Level 4 or 5 leader could work in a part-time,focused capacity to shepherd a cadre of apprentices.


As the American Community College system faces the challenge of the developing a new generation of leaders, it is rich in resources and appears poised for success.  The AACC Competencies For Community College Leadersserves as a comprehensive guide for the development of emerging leaders with very detailed and precise learning outcomes.

Furthermore, individual community colleges have a variety of learning opportunities for new Mid-Level Leadersto become grounded in basic management principles.  These authors posit that this healthy doseof professional development will not only benefit the institution as these new administrators perform more competently in their current roles but will also sow “the seeds of success” fortheir future as Senior-Level leaders and CEOs in the mid-portion of the 21st century.

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