Principled Academic Leadership (PAL)

Principled Academic Leadership

If you are interested in forming a cohort for your institution, seeking a seat in an individual-enrollment PAL program, or have any questions, please contact Jacob Ryder at


Principled Academic Leadership (PAL) is a professional development program tailored to develop the skills needed to survive and thrive while navigating the special challenges of the academic environment. Through highly interactive programs, current and emerging academic leaders consider and practice proven, relentlessly practical tools that can be put into immediate use. Program participants gain concepts and skills needed for dealing with unpleasant and costly elements of interpersonal interactions, those that too often drive people out of leadership positions or that underlie dysfunction in academic units.  

“The sessions I selected [as favorites] were not just practical for academic department head leadership, but have been very helpful to developing who I am as a leader in my research and project groups. I have found the philosophy of leading with intention: understanding the mission and keeping people focused on that.”

Our premise is that excellence is more than what work is done, it also encompasses how work is done: with rigor, reproducibility, inclusion, and integrity. An excellent culture is one in which all participants thrive. When a culture only supports excellence for a subset of scientists, it presents an incomplete view of true excellence. As labs work toward creating environments of meaningful inclusion, we believe that no matter what other measures are considered, cultures of excellence today must broaden the pool of talent, adapting to support the needs and talents of the participants, and allowing their wide range of perspectives and insights to enhance the productivity and creativity of the research. 

“This really helped remind me that to be put in a leadership position is both an honor and a chore, but it’s best to look at it as a responsibility and an opportunity. This course really helped me feel good about the leadership positions I am in. It reminded me how important the good leaders I have and have had in my life have been to me personally and has re-energized me to try and be a strong, trustworthy, reliable leader. This class has made me stand up straighter.” 

Participants build skills for making and implementing decisions required in leadership positions and the conversations that follow. By applying tools and skills to case studies, cohort members work together to develop solutions and approaches to many of the unique hurdles of the academic environment. The program presents strategies for building vibrant academic units and bully-proofing challenged units. Participants are encouraged to evaluate their own leadership needs and growth throughout the program and to reflect on their role and impact as an academic leader.

Over the course of an academic year, participants engage through synchronous online sessions with their cohort, limited to no more than fifteen members. Time between sessions allows for reflection which facilitates deeper learning and exploration of NCPRE’s extensive online Leadership Collection, which includes both videos with experienced academic leaders and a range of written resources from just-in-time Quick Tips to deeper dive Executive Briefings. 

“The component of this experience that will have lasting value is the relationships that I have built with a group of like-minded leaders who are developing the same skills that I am. They have become my friends and my support system.”

Leadership is not a solitary endeavor, and the networks formed within our cohorts are among the program’s strongest assets. Refined through many years of feedback from online and in-person program participants, the content and small cohort model assists participants in building personally-fitting skills and provides ongoing opportunities to practice them. 

“The [PAL] program not only gave me tools and strategies to be a better person at academic workplace but also at my home and other business endeavors that I am involved in.”

C.K. Gunsalus

Author of The College Administrator's Survival Guide (2nd Edition, 2021)

Ann Briggs Addo

Retired Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, UC San Diego

Robert Stacey

Professor and Dean Emeritus,
University of Washington


Robert Easter

President Emeritus of the University of Illinois

Nicholas C. Burbules

Gutsgell Professor Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leaderships, University of Illinois

Lloyd Munjanja

Senior Community Engagement Officer, Office of the Vice President for Research, MIT


Kimberly Foster

Dean and Professor of Physics and Engineering, Tulane University


Topics covered include

  • Building Cultures of Excellence 
  • Giving and Receiving Feedback
  • Managing Difficult Conversations
  • Exploring Leadership in Academia
  • Building unit vibrancy, working effectively to improve challenged academic units
  • Negotiation 
  • Effective inclusion
  • Critical Friends: a proven approach to group problem-solving for academic leaders
  • Use of the Academic Unit Diagnostic Tool (AUDiT)
  • Bullyproofing Academic Units
  • Conflict resolution
  • Listening and asking questions
  • Effective mentoring and feedback, career development 
  • Other topics, as agreed with cohort, liaison

Participant Testimonials

“You know to be perfectly honest, sometimes trainings like this are kind of a waste of time, or offer only a few nuggets of good advice … but this one was just phenomenal. I wish I would have had a warning that this was going to be so good.”

“You provided us with so many tools that I hadn’t really considered to be tools. It seemed like a common theme in many of the lessons was to always come back to finding common ground – why are we here? Because of the students. That was a huge realization for me.”

“The program exposed areas for me to continue to develop and improve on as a leader.”

“Thank you for providing a space for this group of people to get together to share ideas. I looked forward to these sessions and came away with new ideas to chew on after each meeting”

“I have used the critical friends group.  I have re-centered conversations around policy and procedure when colleagues have tried to overstep bounds.  I am working to become a better listener. I have a different outlook on how to use my time as a leader to accomplish something more than just maintaining the status quo.”

“This program gave me a lot to think about re leadership, from defining who I am and aspire to be as a leader to giving me specific skills (e.g., scripts, decision-making framework, negotiation tactics, etc.) to use from a leadership perspective.”

“Robert Easter is an outstanding resource. He is an exemplary leader who is experienced, poised, and savvy. I would love to have him as a mentor!”