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Leading During Difficult Times

During times of crisis, leadership can either ignite fear and uncertainty or provide a sense of purpose and confidence in the path forward. Active leadership in higher education is always multifaceted and requires a culture of preparedness. However, with the onset of COVID-19, leaders faced unprecedented challenges with no easy answers. AACTE interviewed Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, president of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, to discuss what leadership in higher education should look like during difficult times and how she is guiding her institution through the COVID-19 crisis.

What should leadership look like during a crisis?

People look to leaders during crises to keep them safe and to help them adjust to the new ‘normal.’ That’s why it is important for leaders to be visible and transparent. Honest communication on a consistent basis is an essential component in building trust with students, faculty, staff, and the community at large.

One leader of an institution can’t manage all the complex facets of the COVID-19 pandemic alone. Effective leaders know how to engage their team and when to rely on them for their expertise. For example, my background is in education and healthcare, but I know that I have healthcare leadership on campus that can more effectively and efficiently handle the public health aspects of the COVID-19 crisis. They know how to interpret, disseminate and present the information to various audiences including campus leadership, management, and staff, as well as to students and their parents. Without a strong leadership team, the information cannot be disseminated as quickly.

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