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.

Neutral zone infraction

enterprise_romulan_warbirds1
In U.S. football, when the two teams are lined up before a play, a penalty is called if a defender improperly enters the neutral zone prior to the start of play. This can cause an offensive player to jump or false start before the play. The neutral zone is defined as the length of the football, 11 inches, from end to end. The only player allowed in the neutral zone is the offensive player snapping the ball. This penalty is called a neutral zone infraction.
For geeks like me, neutral zones are the buffers and borders of spacefaring civilizations requiring treaties and agreements; think Klingons and Romulans. Bigger than a football, these un-owned, unnamed, impartial spaces are meant to keep the peace.
We keep neutral zones around us, these somewhat safe places, to protect ourselves. Maybe we need to poke a few holes in them instead, make a few infractions. Let the air in. Or let it out.

Bounce back

You don’t last as long as I have in student affairs or any profession without recovery skills, so this article on resilience captured my attention. It featured a new British study where 75% of respondents identified “managing difficult people or office politics at work” as the most substantial impact to overall career stress.
The original study sought to gather stories of successful women as inspiration for women striving to advance in leadership. It found 90% of men and women surveyed credited resilience as important to their success, but only 6% found help in building this skill in their workplace. This may be a reminder that relationship skills and organization politics are smart topics for that next professional development meeting.
One final thought. What if you are the “difficult person” being managed?