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Episode #94

What Academic Leadership Really Means

What if being a leader in academia doesn’t have to mean taking on an administrative role? Listen in for my take on what it means to be a leader in your mid to late career.


When we hear people talking about leadership in academia, what they often mean is admin. Leadership to your institution probably means a department chair or associate director, or other role that helps the university to function. But if admin just isn’t a fit for you, does that mean you’re not a leader? No way. 

Who Are Leaders? 

People with something to say. 

You don’t have to be in an administrative role to have ideas. If you are expressing your thoughts and ideas to others and people are getting behind those ideas, you are a leader.

People who want to make an impact.

There are lots of ways to create change, to influence your field, and to have an impactful career. If you are looking for ways to make an impact and create a legacy, you are a leader.

“You can be a leader… without taking on an administrative role.” -Cathy Mazak


Leaders are not exclusive to admin roles!

If you are sharing ideas and making an impact, you may find that others around you see you as a leader, and assume that means you need to be in admin. This happened in my own career. I took on an Interim Associate Director position in my department, but after seeing behind the admin curtain, I knew for a number of reasons that it was not for me, and I didn’t keep the role. But that did nothing to change the fact that I was, and continue to be, a leader.

Practicing Impactful Leadership

It’s about impact.

Once you’ve achieved tenure (promotion, mid-career level), you’re at a point where you can really hone in on how your mission has evolved and what kind of impact you want to make. 

What do you want to create with your career? What kind of legacy are you building? How can your community help you get there? These are questions that mid-career leaders are asking themselves.

You get there by building your team. 

The lone wolf academic stereotype is still hanging on. That tired trope where the scholar is alone in the ivory tower, toiling away, knowing how to do it all, and doing it all well. But friends, we know this is false!

A true, impactful model for academic leadership is collaborative, with a strong network of partnerships and a supportive community. 

“Academic leadership means building a team around yourself in order to create the impact you want to create with your career.” -Cathy Mazak

How to Get There

In our Elevate program, we help our clients step into this kind of leadership in a number of ways.

Take a look at your time.

How are you spending your time? We ask our clients to look at their activities with their “zone of genius” in mind. This is that special thing you excel at and make the most impact with. We want clients to think about moving away from the things that they aren’t especially good at, that they can’t stand doing, or that drag them down.

Build your team.

How can you find ways to build a team around you that helps support the impact you are trying to make through your zone of genius? Can you hire an admin? Create a community of support? Think about how you can bring others in to share in your legacy.

What is your mission now?

If you’ve made it to the mid-career point in your academic career, you are hopefully past having to “prove yourself”. What do you want to do? What impact do you want to make? How will you adjust and refine your academic mission statement to reflect the legacy you want to create? How can you best use your time to accomplish it?

Start thinking like a leader.

Practice thinking of yourself as a leader. If you’re listening to this podcast, chances are very high that you are one already! If you want to take on an administrative role like provost, dean or director to effect change in academia, go for it! But you certainly don’t have to do that in order to create change. Lead in the way that works for you.

Sound intriguing?

If these ideas sound intriguing to you and you want to think more about your mission, your leadership and your legacy, join me at the Elevate info session happening this week! We will give you a detailed overview of the program and it’s curriculum, share past participant experiences, and answer all your questions. 

We’ll leave the recording at this link in case you miss it live: 

I can’t wait to talk with you!

Is your writing project languishing, mired in the messy middle, or stuck on revise and resubmit? Grab my Writing Sprint Blueprint, a powerful productivity tool to help stalled out publications get out of your pipeline and into the world. As a bonus, you’ll also gain access to my private podcast feed “Stick to the Plan”, a 10 episode series of short, inspirational messages to keep you going. Click here to get the Writing Sprint Blueprint and “Stick to the Plan” podcast series for just $27!


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