Community Conversations: Sharon Pierce and Tiffni Deeb on Leaders Working Together Effectively [video]

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John O'Brien, EDUCAUSE President and CEO, talks with Sharon Pierce, President, and Tiffni Deeb, Vice President of Information Technology, Minneapolis College, about how they work together effectively.

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Tiffni Deeb
Vice President of Information Technology
Minneapolis College

John O'Brien
President and CEO

Sharon Pierce
Minneapolis College

O'Brien: So, welcome to two leaders from Minneapolis College. We have with us today, Sharon Pierce, the President and Tiffni Deeb, who is the Vice President of Information Technology at Minneapolis College, back in my hometown of Minneapolis, St. Paul in Minnesota. Where I'll just start is, to ask each of you to talk a little bit about the relationship you have together. And how do you work together effectively. Especially in the context of a pandemic.

Pierce: Presidents need to understand that information technology is part of our infrastructure. It's not an add-on. It is fundamental to the functioning of the entire enterprise system. And so you need to have a relationship with your vice president of information technology or the senior administrator, whoever you're working with, so that you can trust that, that person understands the needs of the institution. And that they're able to be bilingual, as it were. Yeah and they need to be able to explain information technology, challenges, opportunities, in a way that you're able to understand them and then communicate that out to the entire campus. Because, essentially, without information technology right now, we are not able to function.

Deeb: Technology is a lifeline and yet, sometimes a disruptor, right And so, how do we do that well? How do we work with my colleagues and with our leadership team, to ensure that we're delivering the business needs and then strategically planning. And so, to have those conversations with Sharon, I can be honest. I can be open. I trust her judgment. I trust her guidance. And sometimes it's like, well not quite yet. Or, yes, let's go. Because, having that relationship is absolutely critical to the success of the technology and innovation at our campus.

O'Brien: So this all works really well. And part of the reason I wanted to talk to the two of you, is 'cause I've known you for a while and I know how well you work together. But what's your advice for, each of you, for presidents and information officers who don't have that, you know, chemistry between the president and the technology leader? What advice would you have for building one, when you don't have that?

Deeb: If I was with a president that wasn't quite as technical, I would spend the time understanding, their understanding of technology, so that I could communicate well to them. So that we could strategically plan. And we could communicate on the same level. That is absolutely critical. Whether somebody has a lot of technical experience or not, it is essential for the technology leader to understand where that is and to position themselves, to be influential and communicate effectively to the president and the leadership team.

Pierce: From the president's perspective, you know, you're expected to know something about a lot of different things. You need to have at least some surface understanding and knowledge across the institution. It's very difficult to lead if you can't communicate with your senior administrators. So, for a president or anyone who wants to be a president, it's important to learn something about technology. Because it is part of the infrastructure. It's like not knowing what you're building. It's like not knowing how many square feet of space you have. Or how many buildings you have on campus. If you don't understand the current level of technology and its use in your institution. So doing your homework, I think is critical. And certainly understanding that you should not get into the weeds. That, that's not your job. Understanding that, it's your job to work and collaborate with your senior administration and not do their job. And so staying out of the weeds is important. And I think also understanding the synergy between your budget and information technology. Because that's where things can break down very quickly. You have to have enough resources to support technology, but not give the impression that technology is driving the budget. Because that will also hurt the relationships across the campus.

Deeb: Working with a president that trusts the leader of the technology department or division, is absolutely critical. Sharon has demonstrated many times, when we've had critical outages of trust and patience. And her willingness just to say, it's okay, we'll get there, is essential. It also, positions us, so that my role with my team is similar. I continue to encourage them and be their leader and not get in the weeds with them and let them do their good work, in those critical times as well.

O'Brien: I could talk for hours. So I've really, really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you, Tiffni Deeb, Vice President of Information Technology and Sharon Pierce, President of Minneapolis College. It's been great to talk to you.