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Insights on Leading and Motivating Teams in Higher Education

7 min read

Rama Eriksson

Unleashing the Power of Visual Leadership in Higher Education: A Conversation with Todd Cherches  


In the dynamic landscape of higher education, effective leadership is paramount for individuals in leadership positions in 2024. This crucial task transcends mere talent retention; it entails inspiring a culture of excellence, essential for navigating the complexities and challenges today’s administrators encounter at every turn.  

Inspiring your best people to rise up and stay resilient amidst today’s challenges will mean honing some distinctly human strengths, like communication and empathy, in addition to exploring technology to become more productive.  

In a recent Keystone Higher Ed Chats podcast episode, we had the pleasure of hosting Todd Cherches, the CEO and co-founder of Big Blue Gumball, a NYC-based consulting firm specializing in leadership development. With over a decade of experience as an award-winning adjunct professor of leadership at NYU and a lecturer at Columbia University, Todd is a thought leader ranked among the top 50 global influencers in management and design thinking. 

Read on for some key takeaways on human-based leadership skills from that chat. 


Redefining Leadership in Higher Education 

According to Todd, leadership goes beyond titles and positions. He emphasizes the importance of nurturing the next generation of leaders, highlighting the concept of servant leadership-- where the leader prioritizes the well-being and development of their team members, serving their needs and fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment. 

By enlisting others in the vision, leaders can drive meaningful change and inspire collective action.  


Visual Leadership: A New Approach to Leading Teams

Episode 4 Card_Todd

Todd's book, "VisuaLeadership: Leveraging the Power of Visual Thinking in Leadership and in Life," introduces a novel approach to leadership involving seeing the world through a unique lens shaped by one's experiences. Through visual imagery, mental models, metaphor, and storytelling, leaders can communicate their vision effectively.  


Challenges in Higher Ed Leadership 

Todd identified challenges within higher education, particularly highlighting bureaucratic hurdles and resistance to change. He emphasized the need for leaders to embrace flexibility and critical thinking, encouraging higher ed leaders to see challenges through fresh eyes and understand students' and clients' viewpoints.  

By incorporating visual thinking, administrators can transform ideas into reality and drive innovation and problem-solving in an environment often bogged down by bureaucracy. 


Effective Leadership Tactics: Embracing Listening and Storytelling

1. The Role of Listening

Todd stressed the significance of listening in effective leadership. Listening, not just to words, but to ideas and emotions, is pivotal. It enhances communication, builds trust, promotes innovation, and contributes to a positive and collaborative organizational culture.

Leaders who prioritize active and empathetic listening are better equipped to address challenges, engage their teams, and drive success amidst change.


2. The Power of Storytelling

The conversation pivoted to the power of storytelling in leadership. Storytelling builds emotional connections, fosters relatability, and enhances communication by making messages more memorable.

Facts and figures alone don't inspire; it's the narrative that captures hearts and minds.

""[A]s a leader, you need to paint a picture with words, you need to create a mental movie in the minds of others and get them to wanna not only watch that movie with you, but to help turn that movie into a reality. "

Leaders who can articulate a compelling vision, create a mental movie that engages and motivates, shapes culture, and navigates change successfully in teams.


Prioritizing Employee Mental Health: A Leadership Imperative 

Employee burnout is a significant issue today. Beyond fostering a positive workplace culture and supporting employee well-being, monitoring employee mental health plays a strategic role in talent retention and recruitment.

Proactively addressing mental health concerns prevents burnout, ensuring sustained high performance and informed decision-making within the team. It creates an environment of support and open communication, enhancing team dynamics and empathy.

Additionally, monitoring mental health aligns with legal and ethical responsibilities, contributing to the overall success of the organization by promoting a safe and healthy work environment.

Todd underscores the importance of leaders showing empathy and compassion in supporting team members' mental well-being and positive culture. Setting boundaries, finding an "off switch," and prioritizing work-life balance is essential for preventing burnout in leaders and team members, alike. 


Continuous Learning and Reflection 

For current and aspiring leaders in higher education, Todd emphasized the importance of recognizing every experience as a learning opportunity and allowing time for thoughtful introspection.  

Especially as an antidote to radically changing business needs, continuous learning promotes thought leadership, cultivates a learning culture, and encourages adaptability to challenging situations.

His practical advice for growth and development: (1) cultivate a habit of continuous learning through reading, watching TED Talks, and listening to podcasts; and (2) maintain a journal for self-reflection for both personal and professional growth.  


As higher education administrators navigate complex challenges, effective leadership is essential for driving success. Leading and motivating teams requires a multifaceted approach encompassing innovative thinking, empathy, and continuous learning.  

Todd's insights provide a roadmap for administrators to lead with vision, foster collaboration, and prioritize well-being to inspire teams to achieve their full potential. 

📣Click here to listen to the full episode of the Keystone Higher Ed Chats podcast featuring Todd Cherches  

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