The Preemptive College – Achieving High Performance

The Challenge of High Performance

Post secondary education is very competitive.  There are leaders and laggards, yet all college presidents would prefer their organization to be viewed as a leading, high performing institution.  The challenge of course is to determine how to perform ahead of the competition.  Trying to understand this challenge was the objective of research that I conducted recently. More specifically, I sought to determine what presidents were doing to position their colleges ahead of other organizations.  The outcome of my research was the conclusion that high performing colleges reflect a common set of traits that contribute to their success; traits that may be replicable by other institutions that had a desire to enhance performance.

Niagara College’s Wine Visitor and Education Centre – Niagara College is an example of a Preemptive College

In my analysis of high performing colleges, I concluded that these institutions have the ability to respond preemptively to the market; to proactively take advantage of new and emerging opportunities often ahead of their competitors.  A common factor that I observed was that all of these colleges had catalytic presidential leadership.  That is, they had educational leaders who were committed to creating an environment that helped their institutions act preemptively and thereby better positioning their colleges for success.  I call these institutions “Preemptive Colleges”.

The Preemptive College

I contend that there are four critical traits that form the framework around which institutions can be considered Preemptive Colleges.  When collectively practiced within the institution, these traits positioned the college to achieve a preferred status; that is to be a high performing institution.  The four preemptive college traits are reflected in the figure below.

Framework for The Preemptive College (cc) – Kent D. MacDonald

The Preemptive College traits are defined as follows:

1.     Externally Focused: Preemptive Colleges have leaders who cast their view and actions outwards.  In doing so, insight and intelligence is obtained that would not be obvious otherwise.  Further, these colleges establish external relationships that enhance their ability to take advantage of emergent opportunities most often before other institutions even know there is a strategic or business opportunity.

2.     Trust Oriented: Preemptive Colleges have developed a climate of trust.  Staff and faculty who exude this value are recruited, supported and promoted.  These colleges provide individuals with the autonomy they require to make decisions quickly and to respond to opportunities appropriately.  Preemptive cultures allow for managed risk and demonstrate support for employees when efforts are not as successful as desired.

3.     Entrepreneurially Inclined: Preemptive Colleges have organizational climates that challenge the status quo.  These organizations have a culture that encourages entrepreneurial behavior and promotes leaders who take advantage of their professional autonomy to act.  These colleges have a climate that is moderately risk-tolerant and allows – even encourages innovative behaviour.

Dr. Robert (Squee) Gordon (President Emeritus – Humber College).

4.     Proficient Leadership: Preemptive Colleges have experienced leaders who have a high desire to compete.  Simply being good is not adequate.  These leaders express the need for high quality while at the same time being very focused on the attainment of stated goals and objectives.  These leaders believe their organizations are as good or better than most institutions.  Although there is a competitive spirit within the organization, these leaders also have an advanced expectation of inter/intra-personal aptitude and a bias for collaboration.  They create and leverage internal and external relationships for the purpose of advancing the mission of the institution.  In fact, they can be considered preemptive leaders (more on this in the future) and include the likes of  Dr. Robert Gordon (President Emeritus, Humber College) and Dr. Dan Patterson (Niagara College).

Success Through the Four Preemptive Traits

When these preemptive traits are examined as independent attributes they are not necessarily new.  However, I contend that it is in the collective application of these traits that preemptive colleges are created and sustained.  The outcome of this collective application is that these organizations perform better than other colleges in terms of reputation and key performance outcomes.

High performing colleges have the capacity to proactively take advantage of opportunities that are sometimes not apparent to other institutions. That is, they practice an academic-styled form of “first-mover advantage“.  They have developed an ability to preempt the competition and they can take advantage of market opportunities by moving quickly and executing major innovations within the higher education sector.

Further insights into these high performing institutions will be shared in the coming months.



About kentmacdonald

President and Vice Chancellor Professor, Faculty of Education St. Francis Xavier University
This entry was posted in Leadership and Higher Education. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Preemptive College – Achieving High Performance

  1. I think if we are looking to be a preemptive college, we should start with looking at not helping our students but our applicants. Why do we lose students? Is it financial struggles, misaligned expectations, poor academic preparedness, or underutilized resources? It can argue that it is often a combination of these factors. Often when we attempt to address these issues with students, it is too late. What I have suggested and am working on as a personal project, is helping not our students but our applicants to ensure they are to use Ministry Murray’s term “qualified learners”. By working with applicants we can proactively address the same reoccurring themes noted by students who have had to remove themselves in the past.

    • Thanks Nicolas.

      Preparing the under-prepared student is very important and in my view is necessary. However i would not focus only on students who have not yet arrived at the College. We also need to support students while they are enrolled. These two efforts/topics go hand-in-glove.

      The challenge of better preparing under-prepared students continues to increase as we widen access (part of the purpose of Algonquin). Under-prepared includes academically under-prepared but also includes economic, social et al. In NA colleges, there have been hundreds of strategies to increase the success of students prior to arrival. At Algonquin these include dual credit efforts, our Achievement Centre, Test-Driving college programs (with school boards), increased growth of Career and College Access programming et al.

      Just three examples of perspectives on this matter include:

      Click to access SSTF_Final_Report_1-17-12_Print.pdf

      This topic goes beyond what preemptive colleges do to strategically position themselves for long-term success. It is a small but very important aspect of the broader strategies deployed by high performing colleges.

      Your perspective is a very good one! I am not certain we will be able to identify exactly what is a qualified student as every single student Algonquin accepts meets College and Program entrance requirements and every student also has some area they can improve.

      I appreciate your note and your efforts to better prepare students.


  2. Pingback: The Preemptive College – Externally Focused | Kent MacDonald

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s