Inspire More.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. ~John Quincy Adams

servant-leader_0Reviewing perspectives on leadership provides an opportunity to identify potential strengths beneficial to a student affairs leadership position. Many of us can identify with the achievements defined by Spears (2002) as characteristics of servant-leaders, including awareness, conceptualization, and community building. Additionally, Krulak’s (1998) Marine Corp leadership competencies highlighted decisiveness, endurance, and enthusiasm, qualities that resonate with achievements in my professional life. Each of these leadership areas will be useful in the work of student affairs.

Spears (2002) specifies servant-leadership “as a way of being in relationships with others”, involving others in “decision making” and an enhancement of “personal growth” in the workplace (p. 142.). Spears indicated the characteristic of general awareness and self-awareness as strengths essential to the servant leader. As a practitioner of psychometric and emotional intelligence assessments, I am confident in my knowledge of self, personal strengths, and areas for growth. Additionally, in my presentations on these topics I frequently offer my own preferences up as topics for examination, leading comfort to discussing issues relating to my perceived strengths or weaknesses. This openness allows me a forum for being acutely aware of my own shortcomings while enabling an objective view of a given situation and my perceptions of the situation.

Spears identifies the conceptualization characteristic of the servant-leader, the ability to “dream great dreams” (p. 144), as requiring practice for most leaders. The conceptual or vision framework is defining for me in that I have never been one to let the status quo stand in the way of my work or service to students. I am reminded of a long ago conference presentation where Edward “Chip” Anderson discussed what likely was the precursor to his strengths-based educating work (2005). He asked, “What would we do if we really loved our students?” “What would do if we truly loved our students?” Those questions helped to shape a direction for my students affairs work. They are questions that allow big thinking, which is frequently shot down by reality, but every once in a while leads to innovation and success.

Building community or finding group identity is cited as the responsibility of a leader to bring individuals together as they shift from local community to institutions as the shaper of lives (Spears, p. 145). I have success in helping students find this community by interweaving a dependence upon one another and have achieved similar outcomes with staff who were seeking identity and direction. Finding common ground and a common purpose are critical areas for advancing and supporting college success.

I was surprised to find myself identifying with so many of the Marine Corp Leadership Traits. But after a read-through, it is easy to see these traits as basic tenets of responsibility that any leader must possess for effectiveness and respect in their position.

Krulak (1998) defines decisiveness as easy to understand but not to be confused with inflexibility. I find that my ability of decisiveness, or being able to find closure or completion on a topic or problem, is a strength that helps groups and individuals process and move forward. I am able to gather and review information, reach a conclusion, and proceed with a course of action. The rapidity with which I am able to do this is disconcerting for some, so I find that I need to focus on helping others seek the information or validation they need move ahead.

The trait of endurance can mean “patience”, “going the distance”, and “taking the long view”, (Krulak, 1998, p. 9). As a leader, I have rarely asked my colleagues or employees to complete a task that I am unwilling to complete. This has meant all-night student retreats, fifteen-hour days, seventy-five hour weeks and so many weekends on duty that they become a blur. It likely means that I needed more staff to share these responsibilities, but it also means that we participate “where our students are” and provide more that just face time for students and colleagues.

Being an individual that others can look to for the trait of enthusiasm is fundamental for success in student affairs. My energy and ability to choose my attitude in most situations is imbued from large-group courses to my one-on-one interactions with students. If I want students to be excited and care about their education, I have to show the same excitement.

Although I can regularly display skills in listening and empathy, they are leadership areas where I have room for improvement. Spears (2000) emphasizes that servant-leaders have the ability to “listen to what is being said and not said” (p. 143). Strength in listening requires inner thought in addition to representing the will of the group. I sometimes struggle with listening or allowing individuals to completely present their thoughts before responding. My preference for quick processing of information and desire to seek closure contrasts with the need to include all ideas and contributions.

Spear points to empathy as accepting and recognizing people for their special and unique spirits (p. 143). Where I particularly find challenge with empathy is when behaviors are emotionally charged or enhanced. I frequently take a more logical and pragmatic approach to problems or circumstance and my linear viewpoint must stretch to help others find harmony in decisions. Listening and empathy are partner skills that I strive to develop with student and professional interactions.

Chaordic leadership, defined as the blend of chaos and order, follows many of the traits of servant-leadership and emphasizes that relationships and interactions are required for success. Specifically, it is the idea that without respect, authority can become destructive. Creativity can only succeed when we toss out old ideas making room for the new. Chaos and order are rational descriptions of our work in student affairs and higher education. This relationship of contrasting ideas is perhaps why I have found passion and excitement in my professional path. No two days are alike. No two students are alike.

I strive to mirror the behaviors of my mentors and the other leaders I have admired in my life. At this point in my career, it is sad to report that poor leadership is not uncommon in our profession. The goal then is to check and remove these behaviors from our own practice and move in new directions. There is a balance.

 

References

Krulak, C. C. (1998). The fourteen basic traits of effective leadership [Special section]. About Campus, 8-11.

Spears, L. C. (2000). Emerging characteristics of Servant-Leadership. In Kellerman, B. & Matusak, L. R. (Eds.) Cutting edge leadership 2000. (pp. 142-146). College Park: University of Maryland, James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership.

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Future Earnings, Redux

The monthly jobs report was released this morning, It showed that even in our current tough economy, lo and behold, unemployment for those with a college education is considerably below the national averages. Go figure.

Choose another street

I enjoy finding forgotten resources while organizing my computer files on a rainy Friday afternoon.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN
FIVE SHORT CHAPTERS
_________________________________

From There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk
By Portia Nelson

I.
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II.
I walk down the same street.
There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

IV.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V.
I walk down another street.

Tornado Watch: Assessments for Student Retention

As a resident of tornado alley, there is a summer tradition of dusting off the Twister DVD while scanning the afternoon skies for possible wall clouds. The film takes place in Oklahoma, but was filmed near my current home in central Iowa. The story follows a team of meteorological students and scientists as they attempt to place weather sensors in the path of a tornado to measure readings inside of the storm. After many failed attempts, injuries, and even fatalities, our protagonists successfully launch the sensors and save humanity. Err, save their research. As the flick can also be caught at least three times a week on cable during the summer, I catch up on all of my favorite lines.

Jo: [cow flies by in the storm) Cow.
[cow flies by in the storm]
Jo: ‘Nother cow.
Bill: Actually, I think it was the same one.
Watching the segment as the sensors rise into the F-5 tornado and begin generating data, I am reminded of our students, particularly those in the first-year. If we could read their minds and extrapolate the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, surely we could develop better methods for student success and retention. Fortunately, there are a variety of assessments to assist in this process.

The College Student Inventory™ (CSI) from Noel-Levitz allows students to answer questions regarding their strengths and challenges before they even arrive on campus. I ask my incoming students to complete this assessment after summer orientation and use the information to frame our beginning of the year 1:1 appointments. The student and advisor reports are handy for discussion and the group summary reports provide great information for planning our first-year seminar course and programming topics.

MAP-Works® offers a similar tool to discover student transition issues early in the semester. Students develop a personal profile based on their initial campus experience that is measured for potential barriers to success. A web-based report is generated immediately for students and faculty or staff advisors that compares with all first-year students on our campus. Campus resource services are suggested where needed.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) helps demonstrate theory that there are distinct patterns to individual psychological types even though persons exhibit these patterns in different ways. Helping students to understand their type preferences and how they affect personal learning styles provides a common ground for understanding differences and the transition to college. I provide an MBTI learning styles assessment for each student in our first-year seminar each fall. Students do not always grasp the type concept, but do find meaning from discussion of the transition to university style learning.

It is common knowledge among student affairs practitioners that students enter the college or university with varying degrees of emotional intelligence. Additionally, those familiar with retention issues will cite non-academic challenges as the frequent impetus for student attrition. Assessing emotional intelligence using the EQ-i® allows students to see potential areas for growth that may enhance adaptation and coping skills leading to academic achievement. I find the EQ-i particularly helpful for students seeking direction in their academic or life plan.

While no assessment tool can foresee every difficulty faced by our students on the path to graduation, I have found these tools to be helpful for communication, planning, and advising. Not a certified MBTI or EQ-i user? Check with your human resources office for recommendations.

Have you tried these assessments? Other tools you suggest?

Enjoyed Twister and need a good summer read? Check out The Stormchasers.

Peer Leader Prep Talk

It was energizing to be back in the office today and begin preparations for the semester. We teach a leadership development course each spring for the students selected as peer mentors in our program for the upcoming year. The course introduces concepts of peer leadership enhanced with student development theory and personal discovery through MBTI and EQ-i assessment. 

We selected a new text for the course after five years, so winter break has been spent defining the chapters and assignments for the syllabus. The new book offers interesting case studies with each chapter to utilize for group discussion assignments. 

In addition to work on the syllabus, I have been rereading Delaney Kirk’s Taking Back the Classroom. It has great ideas for preparing peer mentors for the reality of the classroom. Coincidentally, Dr. Kirk posted 6 Tips For The First Day of Class on her blog today. Here’s a list, but be sure to check out the details.

1. Develop Your Philosophy of Teaching

2. Establish Your Credibility
3. Determine Your Class Culture
4. Be Clear about Your Expectations
5. Use the First Day of Class Wisely
6. Handle Discipline Problems Right Away
How do you develop peer leaders on your campus?