Leadership is a word that is often used in our professional world. However, the concept of leadership is not necessarily one that is consistent. People have different concepts of what leadership is or what it should be. In AHE 558: Organization and Administration in Student Affairs, I read a compelling article about spiritually competent leadership. Leading with self-awareness and understanding my strengths and limitations allows me to relate to people with whom I work, as well as continuing to be effective in my job. Spiritually competent leaders, as opposed to those simply reliant on skills or knowledge, are holistic leaders. While this may seem to inhibit the ability to carry out managerial or logistical functions, I believe that I am able to utilize my interpersonal skills and fuse them with the practical business administration background I possess. Although I lack supervisory experience in the traditional sense, I have learned through experience what I value in good supervisors. When I move into a supervisory role, I know I will rely heavily on open and effective communication, clearly outlining expectations while providing encouragement to employees. I know sensitive subjects will arise, but I am confident that I will be able to facilitate conversations in respectful ways. I view myself as someone who is capable of leading within the field of student affairs, given my ability to work with diverse teams. I have abilities and visions that will lend themselves to future leadership roles, and I expect to spend my first several years as a new professional looking for more leadership positions and finding my appropriate niches.
Coming into CSSA, my leadership experience was varied. I had several roles as an undergraduate that were leadership positions, namely serving as a club officer for the Filipino-American Student Association and leading my cheerleading team as our captain (and acting student coach) during my senior year. Both roles brought with them their own challenges regarding balance and time management, but especially in the arena of conflict resolution. I was lucky that I worked with good people who were open to growing from conflict, and knowing how to work through conflict and heated situations will be necessary as I progress through a career. I foresee using past experiences to help students through their own conflicts outside of our relationship.
CSSA is a program that encourages individuals to actively seek out new opportunities. As such, I participated in an internship that was created and designed by myself, a fellow student affairs graduate student, and administration at the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine. This initiative directly allowed me to understand the logistics of working in an international setting, as well as a chance to see campus climate issues at work from an unbiased perspective. For example, UWI – St. Augustine, because its physical location in Trinidad, has to attend to major security concerns. Trinidad is a country in which corruption and crime are prevalent, and to ensure the safety of all at UWI, barbed wire fences and armed guards line the perimeter of campus. This may be an extreme example of administration addressing ideals (e.g., a safe environment in which to learn) and realities of a situation (e.g., the crime rate in Trinidad).
While we may not have the same level of security concerns in the States, there are still commonalities found in how college leaders find ways to adapt to realities. One common issue is how colleges cope with financial and budgetary restrictions. Colleges of all sorts–whether public or private, four-year or two-year–have goals for new programs and improvements they can make; however, it is not hard to see that the monetary support is often times not there, whether that means dealing with hiring freezes or shrinking activity budgets. How do leaders work with these realities? In many cases, they become very creative. Efficiency becomes a higher priority. Even more so, making connections between departments and with community resources becomes more necessary. Effective leaders work outside constraints. They see opportunity where others see only limitations. They do not do more with less; they find a way to do more with more. That might not mean more money, but that might mean more active engagement with other colleagues or utilizing digital connections to find new ideas. It may mean being available for students at odd hours (to an extent) or holding e-advising sessions via Skype. Whatever it is that they do, leaders find a way to stand tall in the face of challenges.
Another component of leadership addresses the financial literacy of administrators. It is quite easy to forget that student affairs’ involvement in budgets goes beyond worrying about constraints for programs and activities! Leaders take the time to thoroughly understand financial policy–like whether or not a student organization may be reimbursed for purchasing gifts for needy children when the original idea for a service project falls through (which apparently, the answer is “no”)–and to understand how to prioritize and allocate funds. An upcoming course of mine, Budget and Finance, will directly address how to create and manage budgets–something that I, as a professional, will need to do. I already have some knowledge of how to manage budgets and balance sheets, as I was a business administration minor and then worked at a corporation for two years. Budget and Finance will allow me to expand on my practical knowledge, too, allowing me to carry more responsibility for my future department’s finances.
Talk of financial management naturally leads to discussion of legal responsibilities. Student affairs administrators are involved in the legal life of a university at varying degrees. Resident directors must have a working knowledge of what kind of information can be dispensed–and to whom the information may be delivered–in cases of medical transports and emergencies. Academic advisors must understand confidentiality and ethical issues. Administrators at all levels must understand the rights of students, as well as employees. Failure to do so can be costly (and quite literally) for colleges. AHE 554, Legal Issues, taught in Winter 2012, addresses how higher education professionals can understand and navigate legal cases. Our biggest project in the course is to compose a legal memo. As a former college cheerleader, I am interested in the legalities that surround athletics; as such, a natural idea would be to examine a narrowed-down topic in the context of Title IX. My initial train of thought around the subject was as follows: cheerleading is a sport and activity which is subject to gaps in insurance due to performances outside of athletic events; cheer teams are not allowed to be covered under NCAA insurance if the teams become recognized as “varsity teams.” Ultimately, I approached the subject as a liability and negligence issue, framing it as a hypothetical situation in which I–as a community college administrator–was approached by a group of students hoping to form a cheer team.
It is also important for a professional to understand organizational dynamics in higher education. Nuances and differences in climate will surely affect how an institution presents itself and runs its day-to-day dealings. AHE 558 was a welcome resource in diving into understanding the structures of different institutions, especially those systems in place at community colleges, which is where my current interests lie. It is not a surprise to learn that community colleges have unique challenges, as opposed to four-year universities. Two-year colleges were primarily created to serve the communities in which they are located; they provide a plethora of programs, from transfer degrees to technical certificates, catering to the diverse needs of the community. As such, leaders within these systems should be in-touch with the community. The city and surrounding areas should become extensions of the classroom, and effective leaders find ways in which they can bridge learning environments.
One of the emerging areas in which I will be able to do this is in the exploration of higher education and spirituality. After taking Spirituality in Higher Education with Don Johnson in Spring 2012, I feel more equipped and ready to engage students in conversations about meaning and purpose. As I explored my own thoughts around various subjects, I developed a working definition of spirituality to frame my future work. It has become clear that spirituality and belief systems are a necessary part in discussion about diversity and multiculturalism, as well as a key piece in identity development. People are able to find meaning in relationships with other people, regardless of affiliation with a belief system or not. As an administrator, I feel that this is important in helping students identify appropriate pathways and priorities in their lives. I am not going to subject anyone to conversion or convincing them to see the world the way I do; instead, I will be a resource for students to ask questions about “What am I doing here?” and carry out conversations with depth and substance.
I lead by challenging myself and others to think critically and more deeply about issues. I utilize rhetorical tools, sharing articles from a wide variety of media and posing questions when necessary. I affirm others, reminding them that I value what they bring to the team, reinforcing the idea that good deeds do not go unnoticed. I am strong when it is needed, but I allow my most human sides to emerge–my blog reflects this most accurately. In this sense, I let others know that I am trying, that I am approaching issues from multiple angles, and that I am continually processing and learning from past experiences.
In more a logistical and detail-oriented sense, I take charge when necessary. I volunteer to tinker with new technology, whether it is Prezi or Google Forms or something entirely different, to provide a group with a unique end product. I lead the conversations when necessary, which is especially apparent in the coordination of various events.
I continue to lead by example. As someone who tries to teach students about personal and professional balance, I seek to be someone who constantly negotiates her own balance. By being in-tune with my needs, I am able to show students the importance in pursuing academic and professional goals alongside personal goals. This in turn, will hopefully allow students to grow into model citizens, further allowing them to pursue lives where meaning and purpose come together.
I see myself emerging as a compassionate leader, one who challenges notions of power and control. I am more akin to lead the way by encouraging others to pursue their passions and make change while providing them with the resources and moral support necessary. I remember coming into contact with various leaders in various organizations whose priorities lay solely in numbers and growth; I remember seeing their employees discouraged and disheartened. By believing in my values as a leader and continuing to seek out experiences and literature which contribute to my knowledge of sound leadership, I can be someone who builds and supports, instead of discourages, the good work of those around me.
Zohar, D. (2005). Spiritually intelligent leadership. Leader to Leader, 38. Retrieved from http://www.hesselbeininstitute.org/knowledgecenter/journal.aspx?ArticleID=84