Running the Race: Transitioning into a New Leadership Role in Higher Ed

Using this workbook, create your unique 3-6 month roadmap to guide your decisions and identify the most critical tasks to accomplish first in your new role.

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Read the Foreword to the Book


by Maria Thompson, Ph.D. and Susan C. Turell, Ph.D.
ISBN: 978-1-948658-18-8 | 392 pages

A workshop in a book

You have attended leadership workshops before that give you the theory without discussion of your specific skills and experience. Other workshops help you focus on your skill set, but without discussion of the specific context in which you will lead. Context is everything.

Running the Race is an intensive workbook designed to guide you in creating your own unique roadmap for your first three to six months in your new leadership role. Leaders new to their roles have very little time to lay a strong foundation for their tenure. Much like a sprint relay, your time in the role is short—and it is dependent on the history you inherit. Don’t squander this precious time at the start; once you accept your new position, be prepared to ‘hit the ground running’ from the moment you begin, and to use your brief honeymoon period to create the greatest possibility of success. Running the Race will assist you as you grapple with:

  • The complex power dynamics at your new institution or surrounding your new role
  • Relationship building during these crucial early days
  • Team building
  • Essentials of shared governance
  • Operating essentials
  • Planning ahead for the legacy you’ll leave when you pass the baton to the next leader

The authors—a retired university president and a former university provost—bring decades of experience leading institutions of higher education and guiding other higher-ed leaders in their pursuit of their careers. Use their case studies, activities, self-reflection questions, and close examination of your macro and micro context in this workbook to set goals, establish plans of action, and identify clearly the most important tasks to accomplish in the first six months following transition into your new role. Your roadmap can then serve as an organizing touchstone for your entire leg of the race, from receiving to passing the leadership baton, and will increase your likelihood of winning that gold medal and leaving the legacy you desire.

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“When you plan to start a new leadership position and are determined to be outrageously successful, Running the Race is a must read and reread. It powerfully presents foundational information, practice-based exercises, and activities that take you quickly from ideas to action. This is a workbook that you should use again and again throughout your career. Drs. Thompson and Turell have given all of us the roadmap to courageous and confident leadership.”

– Karen M. Whitney, Ph.D., Advisor/Interim-Leader/Consultant, President Emerita, Clarion University
“Running the Race is an indispensable guide for higher education administrators, especially those about to enter a new position. The workbook’s interactive format encourages users to probe their own experiences and to situate themselves within the new institutional role they will assume. Although written primarily for job-changers, the volume’s many case studies include dilemmas that can arise at any point in an administrative career. What sets this book apart from competing professional development guides for higher education administrators is its steady focus on the interaction of gender, ethnicity, and power within institutional relationships.”

– Nancy Kleniewski, President Emerita, State University of New York at Oneonta
“Running the Race is a tour de force leadership workbook that takes us on a journey of exploration. It covers the gambit of opportunities and challenges that may face higher education leaders transitioning to new positions and provides practical applications and multiple case studies in the form of ‘learning capsules.’ Maria Thompson and Susan Turell have created a primer for leadership transition. They have developed a comprehensive roadmap of the various facets of transition and done so by effectively utilizing the metaphor of the sprint relay race.”

– Maya Ranchod Kirkhope, Vice President, Academic Search
“Not often does a book come along that both brilliantly explains where we are in higher education and provides a roadmap on where we need to head to next. This is that book. Dr Thompson and Dr. Turell’s remarkable leadership in the world of higher education speaks for itself, but now this latest contribution just solidifies their roles as two of the most thoughtful and impactful leaders in the space. This ‘workbook’ is exactly that, an action plan for growth for how every institution and individual can actualize their own growth.”

– Wes Moore, founder of BridgeEdU, author of The Other Wes Moore, and CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation
“Running the Race is a gift to any new leader. Starting with a focus on context—both the environment and what you bring to it—the workbook helps you build a customized plan for your new role using a set of structured questions and exercises that guide you through an honest appraisal of yourself, your position, and your goals. Higher ed administration has always been challenging but is especially so today. This book, its advice, and the insights it offers will be an invaluable resource to anyone stepping into a new leadership role.”

– Chris L. Heavey, Ph.D., Executive Vice President and Provost, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

About the Authors

Maria Thompson
Maria is a career educator whose work experience spans a variety of institutional categories, including research universities, comprehensive universities, land-grant universities, urban-located, rural-located, HBCUs, and PWIs. She served as president and CEO of Coppin State University (CSU) and was the first woman to be installed as president. Prior to her appointment at CSU, she was provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oneonta, the first African American in the role. She served as vice president for research and sponsored programs at Tennessee State University (TSU), the first woman to serve as chief research officer at the institution. She served as principal investigator on numerous grants and received millions in federal funding for scientific research, facilities construction, and educational projects from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Department of Energy, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

She brings insights gained through first-hand knowledge from breaking barriers in leadership roles in higher education to her coaching practice. She is an experienced coach who works with clients who aspire to be deans, vice presidents, provosts, and presidents. In addition to coaching, she has worked closely with Academic Impressions and her colleague, Susan Turell, to develop and provide equity and inclusion-focused programming for historically marginalized job candidates and leadership development for all who wish to grow their ability to be more equitable and inclusive.

During her 30-year career, she focused on developing sustainable, institution-wide strategic and tactical plans to attract and retain historically marginalized faculty and students, with an emphasis on creating opportunities for them to participate in research. She led efforts that supported faculty in submitting proposals for external funding, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and participating in research development activities. Recognizing that traditional student success metrics penalize campuses that serve significant numbers of historically marginalized students, she is an advocate for more equitable student success metrics.

She earned a Bachelor of Science from Tennessee State University, a Master of Science from The Ohio State University, and a doctorate from the University of Tennessee.


Susan C. Turell, Ph.D.
In higher education for 30 years, Susan brings a passion to her work for supporting people and designing and implementing effective processes, all striving toward an equity-minded perspective. Her goal is to synthesize best practices and approaches to help shift 21st century higher education toward becoming equitable and inclusive.

Prior to serving in higher education administration, Susan taught with an equity-minded pedagogy for 16 years in women’s studies and psychology. She has been actively committed to anti-racism systemic change in the academy for over a decade. Decades of reflection, training, and application all have laid the foundation for her ongoing commitment to working with others to create institutional-level change toward equity and inclusion, via an anti-racism lens. In addition to coaching, she has worked closely with Academic Impressions and her colleague, Maria Thompson, to develop and provide equity and inclusion-focused programming for historically marginalized job candidates and leadership development for all who wish to grow their ability to be more equitable and inclusive.

She served in leadership as a department chair, associate provost, dean, and provost. Her portfolios have included not only academic colleges and departments, but also areas that overlap with student success. A seasoned administrator who is a teacher at heart, Susan welcomes the opportunity to share her learnings with new and aspiring leaders, particularly those who are historically marginalized and everyone who want to move into positions in which they can influence institutional-level change toward equity. She is committed to helping all to find a good fit, to find positions that will allow them to thrive, encourage their optimism, and support their vision for new possibilities.


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