Ask Your Executive Coach

“(It) Was as if you became…an insider who knew she just had to get it right!”

This column is focused on answering important questions/scenarios faced by individuals and institutions engaged in the search process, most particularly for the office of the presidency. With the influx of presidential retirements (both in process and on the horizon) and the issues with which higher education is juggling in this 21st century, the stakes for presidential and institutional success have never been higher.


Therefore, it is the perfect moment in time for individuals and institutions to focus with intentionality on positive outcomes.

The following are examples of common questions/issues that are “real life” examples of what is happening out there.

Question #1

Dear Executive Coach,

I had just become a finalist in a presidential search. My current president had decided, after four years with me as his provost, that he wanted to have a flatter organization. I was offered another senior position in his cabinet with responsibilities that would enhance my presidential capabilities portfolio.

Though I asked my president to wait to start a formal search until after my two presidential, on-campus interviews, he went ahead and put an announcement on our college web site. The folks on the campus I was visiting found that announcement as I stepped on to their campus. The people on this campus did not know,  and I did not tell the search consultant. However, the search committee knew, as one faculty member on the search committee “Googled” candidates every day. I did not get selected. The search consultant told me the “client selected another candidate because they feared I lacked the transparency they wanted in their President.”





Dear Perplexed,

No one likes surprises, least of all those around you who trusted your honesty and integrity. The answer is simple: tell your search consultant early in the search process if you have anything in your present or past that you don’t want them to find out about without your explanation. If you do not have a search consultant make a special call to the search chair. We have found that search committees and hiring officials are generous in understanding institutional or life changes, as long as they learn about these changes in real time, directly from you.

Be open in the future,

Your Executive Coach

Question #2

Dear Executive Coach,

I am a gay man. After divorcing my wife of many years and raising three children, I came out and married my partner. We have been together many years now.  When and how do I tell a search committee chair and /or search consultant? In your experience what degree is there still  bias against LGBTQ folks?


Nervously Out



Dear Dr. Nervously Out,

Do not despair. The times, they have changed – at least for the most part. While there are certain areas of the country where discrimination still exists and will continue to exist, unfortunately, until at least a generation or two passes on, most of the higher education community has accepted diversity in sexual preference and lifestyles. With research, you will know where those areas are. We believe racial and gender diversity still has further to go than lifestyle differences. The irony here is that it used to be the other way around.

It is, however, an important factor in defining who you are and what your values are and therefore should be disclosed fairly early on in a search process. We often see candidates today bring up this fact in the very first conversation with a search consultant. Sometimes candidates still wait until after a preliminary interview to bring up the question of acceptability of lifestyle based on their own need to feel that there will be a fit with the institution and its guiding values.

It is in your best interest to focus on the important questions that you need to answer – namely, what is the quality of the school system for your children, if they were still of school age, and if your spouse needs assistance with a career move. That is a question that should be raised earlier rather than later in the process, whether you are LGBTQ or not.

Search consultants need time to make sure that they can work with clients to figure out how to assist you with spousal career options or children with special needs, for example.

Please remember if you bring up any type of special needs’ requests late in the process you jeopardize your ability to get assistance and you compromise your credibility with an institution and its search consultant.

Fear not – “Out” is “In,”

Your Executive Coach


Question # 3

Dear Executive Coach,

I have tattoos. Should I hide them?


Painted Lady seeking Presidency



Dear Painted Lady,

You must have had to grapple with this question for a long time, unless you have your own nude body suit in your wardrobe. Tattoos make a huge difference in people’s perceptions in your ability to be presidential at a fund raising event, in black tie attire, at the Metropolitan Opera, for example.

It is a tough question because while it should not make a difference, the serious answer to your question is this – College presidents are expected to be “presidential.” In today’s professional arena, we are fortunate in having a broad range of options that define professional attire. Within that rubric, however, you should expect to be dressed in either a dress or pants outfit that covers your tattoos, clearly during the interview phase and certainly in your public role as a president.  The students, on the one hand, might find your tattoos hip, but more than likely they will be the first to express negativity about them. You will still be expected to be “their President” and be capable of being respected by the faculty, board, alumni/ae and members of the community, including donors.

Call us for our confidential seminar on “Dress for Success,”

Your Executive Coach



Financial Arrangements

By nature, coaching is tailored to the situation. Many variations are possible and tailored to each individual’s/institution’s needs.

For example, an individual can elect:

  • Single sessions
  • A plan over several months
  • A year-long series of appointments
  • A set number of sessions, targeting a specific hiring event

An institution can request:

  • A single team seminar with one or more of the A~MA Coaches
  • A longer-term series of team sessions
  • A multi-session plan for a leader/employee to meet one-on-one with an A~MA coach
  • A comprehensive Transition Coaching Plan for incoming Presidents and other senior administrative positions