Dear College Girl

weebabeTomorrow, you, my first born, my daughter, begin college. Coincidentally, the date coincides with the anniversary of my first day of employment at the same campus—22 years ago. Kids were not even in my vernacular then, while learning to navigate work at a giant research university. Whereas I was well into a career in higher education and on my third campus by that time, you are an amateur. A freshman. Have I taught you everything you need to know?

Life skill lists for college students focus on separating laundry and being able to change a tire. I am glad that you are getting the hang of laundry after begging for that help for years. It is exciting that you have figured out how to use the washing machine, if not the frequency. Do you want to learn how to change a tire? Your grandpa made me practice before leaving home. But as you do not drive, relying on your bicycle, public transportation and the kindness of friends, just remember to look both ways before crossing the street. Budgeting has been a little harder, but you have seen that bank accounts are not infinite. You are smart to take advantage of haircuts and shopping while with me!

We bridged the moving away from home event several weeks ago as you moved into off campus digs and began setting up a home. It was miserable, for ME, but you enjoyed your new-found freedom from curfews and assigned chores. Your new place is coming along nicely (do the dishes!) In hindsight, this early fleeing of the nest was good for both of us allowing new routines to be established. Less crying now, again from ME.

Sweetie, you are brilliant and ready to take on the world, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Trust me. After nearly 30 years working with college students and 18 years of being your mom, I know these things. But just a few more words of wisdom to share…

  1. Go to bed early. At least sometimes.
  2. Set two alarms (I know you like to sleep in).
  3. Greet the day with a smile, it has much to bring you.
  4. Being on time means arriving early.
  5. Take lots of notes in every class.
  6. Rewrite your notes after class and add text readings.
  7. Make lists, there is a lot to remember.
  8. Do you have an umbrella?
  9. Address your instructor as professor, it covers many titles.
  10. Drink lots of water, less caffeine.

And finally, do you remember the words of advice that I shared every day you were in elementary school? They are still important.

  • Be a good friend.
  • Listen to your teachers (er, professors).
  • Listen more than you talk, there is much to learn.
  • Always do your best.

Love,

Mom

PS. Text me a first day of college selfie!

 

 

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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.

A year of accomplishments, scatterplots, new resolutions

Poor, sad, little neglected blog. I used to think that I did not have time for writing while I finished my dissertation. This year demonstrated that a preoccupied mind prevents reflection as well. I have been working on this draft for many days and struggling to verbalize the happy and not so happy of it all. Americans are supposed to be the outlier on the happy scale, more upbeat about their days than most people. When we are not in that place, it can be hard.

FT_GDP_Scatterplot

At the end of last year, I was not selected for a promotion that I fiercely wanted and had stringently prepared. It was a position I had strived for in the past, only to be discouraged from applying due to lack of a terminal degree. This “job” was not the driving force behind completing my Ph.D., but the degree was one of a series of steps that I took to prepare for a “next step” in my career. Side note, being rejected from a dream job five days before holiday vacation is not ideal for one’s self-esteem and seasonal jocularity. I recommend against it all costs.
This year began with a new boss (not getting the “job” meant working for the person who did) and the adjustments that come with a change in leadership. It also began with a new opportunity.
A position with an education non-profit came on the horizon and a new job search began. For those of us who lament the prodigious time required for campus employment, this process reached new heights. Non-profits include a scaffolding of decision makers. Whether in discussion with a screening committee, organization leaders, elected board, and the membership; each audience sought a different answer and a different set of skills. The job posted in January and concluded with a hire announcement in late September (more on this later). A colleague termed it as the job search that rivaled a pregnancy.
Meanwhile, real life work this year included financial shortfalls, intense budget negotiations, staff reorganization to address financial shortfalls, a staff member on family leave, and a staff member following a partner to new employment. Even knowing in advance, it is difficult to prepare for the transition of a dedicated colleague. Rewriting position descriptions, preparing a search committee, waiting on HR approvals, the calendar was inching along. And all of this while attending to the needs of smart and amazing students (who sometimes have tragic days) and doing my best to be a good leader and mentor for the amazing student staff and graduate assistants that I am lucky to employ. The wiser than her years, Stacy Oliver-Sikorski, recently opined “There are really awful days amidst the really great days, and we need to be more honest with ourselves and others about that.”
Facing those “awful” days and separating work from family needs was complicated this year. I am enormously grateful for a loving and supportive partner who keeps me grounded. I am happy and proud to be mom to an amazing teen and tween who are high achieving and in search of their strengths. They are my most important work every day.
I will be embarking on a new adventure in the not so distant future. Despite every obstacle, 2014 will be remembered on the happy scale as the year that I resolved to get my dream job. And succeeded.
More soon. Happy 2015!

Butterflies are free

Butterflies-300x300I like to think about nerves like they’re butterflies, flying around in your stomach…   You want to make them fly in formation — that’s the trick.                                                  ~Ann Swisshelm, U.S. Olympic Curler

If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.

When your work, team project, lit review, budget forecast, program planning or <insert other> is getting you down…
Remember.
It’s supposed to be hard.
If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.
The hard is what makes it great.

Resiliency in Student Affairs

Any individual who has dedicated more than a couple of years to a career in Student Affairs understands the power of resiliency. I was reminded of this during a weekly discussion with the Student Affairs Collaborative on the topic of “Duties as Assigned”.

In student affairs, evening and weekend duty are par for the course. Emergency calls and student crises in the middle of the night are routine. In my own career, I have had my position eliminated during financial challenges and once endured seven different supervisors over a five-year span. I have mourned the loss of students, including one killed on campus by a drunk driver (another student). And of course, I have juggled work commitments while spending time away from my family.

Dr. John Grohol writes about 5 Steps to Building Resiliency. He provides great tips for growing your own reservoir of resilience.

  1. Resiliency Means Accepting that All Things are Temporary
  2. Self-Aware People are Resilient People
  3. (Some) Adversity Helps You
  4. Our Social Relationships Bolster Us
  5. Goal Setting and Understanding Your Problems is Important

Student affairs professionals must be resilient to grow, advance and succeed in this field. This same resilience allows us to serve our students when they may be struggling. As you examine your strengths in preparation for an evaluation or interview, be certain to include the resiliency traits that you bring to the table.

Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them. ~H. Jackson Brown

This post first appeared on eighteen and life on February 1, 2011.