Leadership Team

Creating a sustainable leadership structure is important for the long term success of your community. Existing COMMIT communities have a variety of leadership structures; this page will help you find one that is a good fit for your community.

Guiding Questions

Case Studies

MD-DC-VA COMMIT: An evolution in leadership structure.

We started with very little structure.  Whoever had the idea and energy to organize something, did-- one person created our mailing list, another organized our first event. We brought in new people to the leadership team who we already knew, or who we met through other contexts. In 2019 we decided that we needed better defined roles, and a more democratic process for choosing leaders. Now we have five offices, and a nomination and election process.  

Folks are elected for two year terms, but there are no term limits; this gives people a graceful way to exit the leadership team, to avoid burnout. We have elections for three of the offices one year, and the other two the other year. We call for nominations on the email list and at the spring / summer meeting. Nominations can be for others or for oneself. If we don’t get enough nominations, the current officers recruit (as we did in the model before elections). Voting is done via Google Form in the spring, for terms that start the following academic year.

Keep in mind that elections are democratic, but therefore reflect the biases and existing social networks of the people who are voting. For that reason, the leadership team or some nominations committee still has an active role to play to make sure such a system is supportive of diverse candidates.

Leaders who leave the region: a cautionary tale.

This community was created after Patrick Rault (co-founder of UNY-IBL, a COMMIT serving greater upstate New York) moved to the University of Arizona (UA) and met a number of other practitioners interested in student-centered teaching pedagogies, most notably Robin Mayer at Pima Community College’s East campus who was overseeing a new grant to infuse active learning into gateway STEM courses. The most active members of this new community were PhD students and post-docs from UA and faculty from Pima East. Robin had recently returned from an Academy of Inquiry-Based Learning residential workshop (AIBL, http://www.inquirybasedlearning.org/) and was looking for more professional development for her colleagues. Robin organized two workshops, one held at Pima East and a second held at an MAA / AMATYC regional meeting (at another Pima campus).  Patrick organized the community hosted lunch/dinner gatherings and organized a one-on-one mentoring program. They worked to recruit more members and future leaders, for example encouraging someone new to organize each next lunch. Kyley Segers of Pima East, and UA graduate students Angelica Gonzalez and Kyle Pounder, all rose to the task of organizing. The aim was, in the long run, to build a self-sustaining leadership structure. However, before a sustainable system was in place, Patrick switched jobs and moved to Nebraska; Angelica and Kyle graduated. The community shrank to focus on Pima East, but still had some promising connections with the UA.  

In better news: today, a Southern Arizona COMMIT is officially re-forming! Its leadership structure is now based on a much stronger alliance between multiple Pima campuses and full-time faculty at the University of Arizona. The re-formed community also builds on collaborative projects that have taken place since the fading of the original COMMIT.

Sustainability: Leadership Transitions and Recruitment

For a community of this sort to last, its leadership structure must be sustainable. Part of leadership sustainability is avoiding the “single, over-powerful, charismatic leader” (see wikipedia article on Founder’s Syndrome). That can stifle the growth and creativity of an organization and prevent real opportunities for rising leaders. Also, if that single person burns our or moves, the community will likely crumble (see A Cautionary Tale above). Even if leadership responsibilities are spread out over a small team, a vibrant community needs new ideas and energy from new leaders. And this kind of leadership opportunity is also important and needed for new faculty.

Leadership Structures Activity (Fillable version, PDF version)

These documents present some possible models for leadership transition, recruitment, and selection. We show this like a menu of options, but some of these models mix and match better than others. For each model, identify some of its strengths and weaknesses. To do this, consider and balance ease, transparency, sustainability, implications for diversity, and any special circumstances of your region (realism!).

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Diversity on your leadership team is important for several reasons. Having a diversity of leadership experiences, teaching experiences, identities, and institution types on your leadership team helps you design events and projects that will serve a broad and diverse membership base. Having diverse social identities on your leadership team can also make members from under-represented groups feel more welcome in your community.

Attending to diversity on your leadership team is one reason it is so important to carefully consider your leadership team recruitment and transition plans and structures (see Activity above!). One example: if you have a recruitment strategy that relies completely on self-nominations, you will likely have an underrepresentation from groups that might be more susceptible to imposter syndrome.  On the other extreme, recruiting from people you already know, without attention to diversity, will tend to create a more homogeneous leadership team.  Finding a good balance for your community will be an ongoing challenge, but also presents a regular opportunity to reflect and create change.

Since your leadership team mostly pulls from your membership base, building a diverse membership base is a corequisite for building a diverse leadership team. This might sound like a catch-22, since it was also mentioned above that a diverse leadership team could help build a more diverse membership base. It is a well-known catch-22, and it exists across many sectors, but it’s not a dead end.