Skip to main content

Northwestern leaders encouraged to collaborate and value the process of change

Best Practices Forum featured keynote address from Robin Means Coleman on leadership
best practices forum
Hosted by the Office of Organizational Strategy and Change, this year’s forum was held May 3 at Norris University Center as a dual modality event, with more than 500 staff in attendance. Photo by Bonnie Robinson

Northwestern University hosted the 2023 Best Practices Forum recently, a daylong event showcasing campus achievements, resources and enterprise-wide tools that have been implemented across Northwestern campuses. 

Hosted by the Office of Organizational Strategy and Change, with support from Provost Kathleen Hagerty and Executive Vice President Craig Johnson, this year’s forum was held May 3 at Norris University Center as a dual modality event, with more than 500 staff in attendance.

“Often in higher education, and especially during COVID, there were things we really needed to do and instead of choosing to do them, we got pushed to go there,” Hagerty said in opening remarks that kicked off the forum. “The challenge is, how do you do important things without being pushed?”

Hagerty emphasized the role of COVID, George Floyd protests and student activism in driving change, including more flexible workplaces, “thinking harder and taking more responsibility” about racial justice and introducing faculty and staff to new technologies.

In addition to giving visibility to other units at Northwestern and highlighting how they approach a range of challenges and opportunities to drive toward successful change, the forum focused on leadership and interdisciplinarity.

Staff sessions and panels this year included a talk with the Block Museum and the McCormick School of Engineering’s artist-at-large, Dario Robleto, called “The Opportunity of Uncertainty: Interdisciplinary Innovation and Open-ended Process.” Additional panels included success stories about strategic hiring, SmartSheets and contract management, and a report on leadership in McCormick’s computer science program.

Robin R. Means Coleman, vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion at Northwestern, gave the keynote address entitled, “Don’t Go Into the Basement: What Horror Movies Can Teach Us About Leadership.”

“Transformational leadership means that I never finish cultivating my leadership or the positive development of my team members,” Coleman said. “Origin stories give us insight into character. Transformational leadership creates heroes who are selfless and do not need to be the main character of the story. We see ourselves in origin stories as our work continues to expand.”

Coleman is also the Ida B. Wells and Ferdinand Barnett Professor in Communication Studies and the leading scholar on Black representation in horror films.

From “Halloween” to “The Walking Dead,” Coleman walked the audience through ways people become “heroes” (through “destiny, chance or stress-induced growth”), then transitioned to talk about attacks on higher education and DEI efforts, with a reminder that “Black history is Black horror” to justify the rejection of civility in favor of disobedience during protest.

“Northwestern is not immune to these culture wars,” Coleman said, speaking about anti-DEI and anti-trans bills being introduced around the country. “Students’ education and level of preparedness will change as access to curriculum is limited. As staff, we must stay informed of the social and political landscape and collectively embrace our duty to support Northwestern community members.”