by: Sara E. Gomez, Ann M. Hintz

There are many meanings to the term leadership and what it entails for higher education professionals. Leadership opportunities are open for everyone, regardless of title or role. Effective leaders are able to inspire others to reach a common goal and do not need to be in positions of power to lead (Cox, 2016). Rather, they need the skills to inspire others to do their very best. At times, it can be difficult to inspire those around us, but now, more than ever, we need to lead with passion, collaboration, connection, commitment, and communication. The following article includes several key components to be a strong leader that can be helpful for academic advisors to be aware of so they can lead from their position on campus.

Supporting Yourself and Others
Leadership is about supporting those around you to achieve goals; actively and sincerely listening to needs, interests, and desires; and providing the support necessary for success. Supportive leadership involves providing inspiration, support, trust and helping and supporting others through challenges (CFI Education Inc., 2022). When leaders support the initiatives of others, this can foster motivation (Jansen, et al, 2016).

Leadership and DEI
Leadership means educating ourselves and understanding our cultural diversity, awareness, and privilege. Then working on steps to understand equity, inclusion, and diversity through using an equity lens. First, we need to have a deep and sincere understanding of what cultural awareness is and what it means for us as leaders. For us, it means having the ability to recognize, value and appreciate ourselves and others as we all bring unique perspectives, experiences, skills, perspectives, histories, and culture. It is about celebrating and valuing our differences, listening, and embracing. In addition, we need to understand how our actions influence others, and how we can help those around us realize the importance of doing our work through this lens.

Equity means fairness, impartiality, and justice – an equal opportunity for all students to participate fully in all educational and non-educational opportunities. Are we committed to working with our colleagues on equity, diversity, and inclusion to best meet the needs of our students, faculty, and staff?  A way we have embraced this is by taking advantage of opportunities to learn about diversity, equity and inclusion through ongoing staff training and participating in book clubs.  We have also found it valuable to understand the history, current events and personal experiences/stories of our colleagues and students. From these experiences we gain knowledge, insight and become better because of it. This also gives us more insight to help understand the injustices that continue to take place in our society, to be advocates, to work together toward a common goal of valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion.  It also means to value and acknowledge the experiences and stories. It also becomes important to continue to be advocates for these important issues, to actively engage in conversations and to work together toward solutions and achievable action items. Lastly, we have learned that the work in diversity, equity and inclusion continues, is ongoing and we have found it is important to continue to continue to educate, learn, build our communities, embrace, and celebrate each and everyone’s unique and individual experiences.

Communication and Collaboration
As a leader, we are in conversations with our colleagues and campus leaders, directors and/or managers to discuss student needs. For example, maybe there needs to be additional funding for students impacted by COVD-19. If yes, is there an opportunity to write to our legislators to advocate for additional funding and the importance of maintaining state funding?  In another example, maybe a student’s need is about how we can be more inclusive. How can we make the learning environment and college setting more inclusive? This first starts with examining our own assumptions. Learn more about our students, their names, their unique backgrounds, experiences, abilities, and dreams/goals for the future. Now, it is even more important to welcome students as leaders in higher education. Perhaps it is about offering mentors for students, support groups and/or more funding for them to continue their education. As leaders in higher education, it is important for us to understand the issues, collaborate with our institutional partners and together work on initiatives to achieve these common goals.

Leading through Connections
Your professional network is one of the most important networks that you have. This network develops over time and has a plethora of knowledge and support for you. A strong leader will use this network for support. It also means to continue to network, grow and expand our connections to colleagues within our institution, within the state and nationally. Encourage those you lead to make these connections and to become active participants in your professional development organizations. For more seasoned professionals, this work often helps “fill their cup” and re-energize them for projects back on campus. Additionally, this allows for professional development in the field and encourages continual development and succession planning.

Professional connections can also impact campus development through analyzing key institutional needs, student needs, asking key questions while we are in dialogue with our colleagues to solve concerns, and being strategic and creative in long term planning. Additionally, data gained through this type of professional development can then be used to enhance our services. We need to understand, constantly communicate, collaborate, coordinate, and celebrate.

Closing Thoughts
Leadership on a higher education campus is about being proactive and dynamic in addressing staff and student needs. Communication and collaboration on a regular basis with our institutional partners, faculty, staff, advisors, counselors, and students. It is important that we use this holistic approach to leadership that is ever evolving, changing, and growing. Then together we can lead with passion, and have a positive, energetic, and vital mindset to best serve our students and one another.


Cox, J. A. (2016). Leadership and Management Roles: Challenges and Success Strategies: Perioperative leadership. AORN Journal: The Official Voice of Perioperative Nursing, 104(2), 154–160.

Jansen, J. J. P., Kostopoulos, K. C., Mihalache, O. R., & Papalexandris, A. (2016). A Socio-Psychological Perspective on Team Ambidexterity: The Contingency Role of Supportive Leadership Behaviours. Journal of Management Studies, 53(6), 939–965.

Supportive Leadership. (2022). Corporate Finance Institute. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from