On Monday, December 4th, both Rachel Brown and myself braved the dark 6:00am morning as we drove to Charlotte, North Carolina to participate in the 2017 NCACE Leadership Institute. As we chased the rising sun, many questions crossed our minds: Would we know any of the other participants at the conference; would there be tangible material that we could use in our own practices, and finally, whether the material would resonate with us in our current roles as fellows?
After grabbing my plate of breakfast goodies and settling in, I noticed that I did, in fact, recognize some familiar faces from the NCCDA conference held at Elon not too long ago. (More on that here). With a smaller group of 25 individuals, it made the networking and conversations seem more authentic to me. After all, we were going to be with each other for two days, so it would be in my best benefit to try to foster some meaning in the conversations.
The two days were carefully mapped out with sessions like “Partnership and Strategic Alliance”, and “Setting the Stage for Excellence—Staff Development and Performance”, given by various Career Development professionals representing an array of Colleges and Universities in North Carolina and one representation from South Carolina–Hello, Clemson! Though I definitely found meaning throughout the sessions, I struggled with the definition of the term ‘leadership’.
According to Susan Ward, a business writer for TheBalance.com, “leadership is the art of motivating people to act towards achieving a common goal.” While I do agree with this, I think it’s absolutely necessary to consider the context in which the term is used. That said, I feel I had two major takeaways of what leadership means to me in the context of career and professional development.
First, leadership involves partnerships. If there was one big, bold-lettered theme to the many conversations and discussions at the Institute, partnerships would have been the glittering marquee, and for good reason. In Higher Education, career advisors and professionals need to consider how to help students beyond the resume reviews and individual sessions they provide. Considering how impactful alumni, faculty, employers, and even the student organizations across campuses are, it’s necessary to have conversations to reach a common goal of serving students. Sometimes, this may mean having a difficult conversation to ensure all parties are on the same page. Often, though, this occurs when career and professional development teams meet together under the direction of a strong leader to dive deeper. This could also mean focusing on already-established partnerships or sometimes innovating to discover new pathways of success.
Second, the notion of trust was something that was maybe less obvious, but still absolutely necessary in fostering leadership. In order to have a relationship in which both the supervisor and employee can grow professionally, the lines of communication need to be clear. Honesty is always the best policy, and in leadership roles, one must weigh the pros and cons of how transparent to be. For example, there are times where the staff should be integral in the decision-making process regarding office changes and politics, however, there are also times where it’s unnecessary to place the burden on the staff when the leader should own their decision.
I’d like to wrap-up my thoughts on leadership and the NCACE Leadership Institute with a quote I heard during one panel session by Tiffany Waddell Tate, Associate Director of Career Services at Davidson College: “you sometimes have to be your staff member’s hype man and bring them to those crucial meetings with you.” In this context, she’s referring to bringing staff members to meetings with upper management to let them take a chance and guiding them in the process. I felt this especially ringing true as I’m embarking on my journey to plan the College of Arts & Sciences’ Career Trek; my supervisor, Ross, and colleagues on the Arts & Sciences team have allowed me to take the reins and conduct a meeting on my own. I can honestly say that I work with an amazing team of individuals who constantly support, encourage, and empower me to take ownership of projects and try new programs.
What are some other major themes you think of when you consider the makings of a strong leader? And further, what does leadership mean to you?