Case Study: How the University of South Carolina Got its Leadership Development Programming off the Ground


How the University of South Carolina Got its
Leadership Development Programming off the Ground

How did USC take its leadership development program from stalled on the drawing board to a highly successful, non-negotiable item on the provost’s annual budget?

University of South Carolina logo on a tablet


With baby boomers retiring, USC (like many institutions) has a real need to both cultivate the next generation of faculty and administrative leaders and boost retention of junior leaders by investing in their leadership competencies and career advancement. 3 years ago, USC had a desire to pursue succession planning and talent development, but faced several challenges:

  • Planning was prolonged and time-consuming.
  • Uncertainty over how to structure and roll out such a program.
  • Difficulty determining how to provide leadership development for faculty.
  • A desire for closer partnership between the provost’s office (which had  the interest and the resources) and HR (which had the expertise and the people).

USC wanted the program, but had to find a way to get it off the ground.



Nathan Strong, director of organizational and professional development at USC, came to AI’s Designing a High-Impact Leadership Development Program in Higher Education conference. “The AI event was very serendipitous,” he says. It provided:

  • Start-to-finish, soup-to-nuts, what-to-watch-for instruction.
  • Close dialogue with lead facilitators Pat Sanaghan and Clint Sidle.
  • Validation for some of USC’s plans.
  • A quick reality check that spotlighted some aspects of the program that would need to be rethought prior to rollout.
  • And it connected Strong with an excellent leadership development program facilitator, whom he later hired.

Returning to campus, Strong presented his findings from the event to Senior Vice Provost Lacy Ford. “I think that presentation helped to change his mind about how we needed to approach selecting facilitators for the program and designing our cohorts,” Strong recalls.



After in-depth dialogue over what had been learned at the AI conference, USC’s HR and provost’s offices partnered to establish and quickly roll out two institution-wide, cohort-based leadership development programs:

  • PAL (Pipeline for Academy Leadership), now in its second year with 13 faculty and 12 senior staff (such as the bursar and the associate vice president of student affairs) enrolled.
  • Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), a succession planning instrument, with 24 up-and-coming administrative leaders enrolled.

Both programs run from August to April. There is a nomination process, with the provost reviewing PAL’s final nominees. The PAL program is facilitated by two instructors from HR and an external consultant. The ELP program is facilitated by HR and uses AI’s 5 Paths to Leadership assessment tool. Both are designed around 5 leadership competencies (leading change, leading people, building effective relationships, institutional knowledge and understanding, and managing for results), which inform a customized 360 assessment and leadership coaching for participants.



Thanks to the learning that occurred at and following the AI conference, not only is USC’s leadership development programming rolled out and no longer stalled; it is showing tangible early results:

  • 75 participants in the first two years.
  • Graduates meet regularly with HR to problem-solve and brainstorm.
  • Cohort members have developed a deep bond that crosses colleges and traditional silos; many PAL participants have attended a reunion for their cohort.
  • 2 department chairs who attended PAL attribute the successes of their first year as chair to what they learned in the program; one began as a skeptic but is now one of PAL’s most outspoken advocates.
  • An associate professor of public health who attended PAL gained the courage to run for department chair, and she now holds that position.
  • Leadership endorsement: continuing PAL is a non-negotiable for the provost, and PAL participants are preferred to represent USC in the Southeast Conference’s leadership development program (ALDP).
  • Growing demand from faculty and academic leaders, with chairs and deans calling to ask how they can nominate participants.
  • Strong and his colleagues have provided external consulting for one of USC’s other campuses to help it shape its own leadership development program.

"Today we have highly positive reviews from faculty, and the perceptions of leadership are changing before our very eyes as a result of the programs that conference helped us design. And faculty and administrators are lining up to participate.”

- Lacy Ford, Associate Provost, USC

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