Purpose. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand how deans at a private university apply strategic leadership to sustain an organization during the societal crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Theoretical Framework. The theoretical framework that guided this phenomenological study was strategic leadership. As a research paradigm, the strategic leadership theory served as a lens through which to analyze the leadership strategies and practices of higher education deans as they sustained their institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Methodology. This study applied the qualitative research design, and phenomenology was used to explore the following research question: What strategic leadership practices do deans at a private university perceive as integral to sustain an organization during the COVID-19 pandemic? Data were collected using purposeful, nonprobability, convenience, and snowball, sampling methods by interviewing five study participants; the interviews focused on their leadership experiences as deans who are employed at several private universities in California.
Findings and Conclusion. The major findings identified five major themes that emerged from the data analysis: (a) building a motivated and committed team, (b) preparing relentlessly, (c) deciding and prioritizing objectives, (d) reevaluating current strategies and implementing the right one, and (e) communicating effectively. The findings and conclusions of this study showed that the deans are highly effective leaders. They were very successful in managing crisis and change during the COVID-19 pandemic because of their extensive professional experiences combined with their abilities to apply strategic leadership practices in their organization.
Recommendations. Colleges and universities should be developing an innovation strategy involving a strategic technology plan to build their online, technology, and communication infrastructures or make their existing ones more robust. The faculty should broaden their expertise by getting certified now to teach in different course modalities such as online, remote, hybrid, or HyFlex. The deans would need to create incentives to encourage faculty participation with trainings and certifications, including budgeting for the costs of the workshops and/or compensation for time. With a year of COVID-imposed remote and online teaching and learning, the deans should take this opportunity to develop a faculty culture of embracing new approaches, taking risks, and sharing best practices regarding teaching innovations
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