Take Charge of Building Your Campus Leadership SkillsPlay politics, make mistakes and find lessons from them. If you choose not to play, others will play for you-and you won't like the results.
By now we know that leaders are made, not born. What do you need to know to become a leader and how do you find the answers and develop the skills to become effective?
Candace Dennig, assistant director of residential life at Indiana’s Valparaiso University, spoke about how to develop leadership skills in a presentation at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) conference held in Philadelphia in March.
With a graduate degree from Ohio University, Dennig earned a Women’s Leadership Certificate at a Loyola University Chicago program last year.
The Loyola program targets women professionals in mid- to upper-level positions across all workplaces. It’s also of interest to women who don’t necessarily aspire to the senior level but who do have a desire to make important, strategic contributions to their workplace by practicing sound leadership principles.
Dennig outlined five key leadership for women:
1. Reflection in leadership
Albert Einstein once noted that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Instead, women need to create a personal action plan that examines their current circumstances and challenges. It should address your immediate job and its functions and where you want to be career-wise. Other reflective lessons help women to understand what they have to offer and what makes them happy.
If you’re seeking a leadership role, what do you need to be successful? What are the outside factors you can’t control? The likely suspects are the school’s culture, family and relationships. If you’ve outgrown your position or are in an uncomfortable situation, what are you going to do about it? How will you manage change?
One solution is to look for that perfect job. But until the pain of change is less than the pain of staying there, it’s human nature to want to stay with the devil you know.
What’s holding you back from making a change? Are you afraid to make a decision? Are you concerned about what others think? By not making a decision, you’re opting out. Is the problem related to you or to an outside factor? If you’re compromising your values in order to do your current job, remember what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “If we don’t stand for something, we may fall for anything.”
Begin the change process by identifying five values that are essential to your well-being. Review them for a month, adding and subtracting values as necessary.
2. Leading by example
Women professionals should develop their own model of leadership based on discernment. It takes time for a person to develop beliefs and values. Her persona may change and her boundaries move based on experience.
Others can tell the difference between the person and her persona, so be your authentic self. It makes it easier to weather hard times and criticism than if you constantly blow in the wind.
3. The language of business
Higher education is a business. Its leaders must understand business tenets, be able to read financial documents and know what information they convey. But to be great, you must first know yourself.
Women build relationships easily, but to be effective leaders they also must be knowledgeable, especially about finance and planning.
Three specific areas of business that women are often lacking skills in are budgeting, technology and communication. To budget effectively, build one and spend one. Understand the financial priorities. Learn how to manage those who manage the budget.
Effective leaders must know how to use technology, build on it and keep up to date with new releases and developments. Connect to others and build your own professional identity on social media sites and through networking.
Develop your voice in written and oral communications. Know how it comes across by others’ feedback.
4. Power and politics at work
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign created 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. Whether as First Lady, a presidential candidate or in her current role as Secretary of State, Clinton understands the importance of both power and politics.
Power is defined as the potential to influence behavior and change course. Politics requires apportioning scarce resources. Playing politics successfully earns the player the right to the power.
Various barriers, including sexism, can derail women leaders. The “queen bee” syndrome is alive and well and continues to damage women in or seeking leadership roles.
Other barriers include lacking savvy in negotiating the political landscape. We fear criticism and offend easily. It’s not always easy and comfortable to do our jobs. We fail to develop strategic relationships.
The big dilemma women face is whether to play or not to play. The solution is to learn to play with strategy. Play politics, make mistakes and find lessons from them. If you choose not to play, others will play for you—and you won’t like the results.
The issue surrounding politics and power is not IF but HOW. Some strategies: Do give out information and get it appropriately. “Bank” a favor. Give in on small non-issues.
Be respectful to people in all positions. Help people get what they need to do the job. Guard your privacy and keep confidences. Don’t broadcast problems, either personal or professional. It’s important to be seen as having emotional stability and consistency.
If you break a promise, know that it will come back and burn you. Don’t push for action without understanding the consequences. Avoid taking credit for others’ work. Don’t contribute to gossip and don’t criticize people in public.
5. Change, collaboration and conflict
Change is the only constant in our lives. We respond to it only when we realize that we need to change, and what we will gain by doing so.
Applying the four-stage conscious competence model to learning new skills, the person always begins at stage one, “unconscious incompetence,” where she’s unaware of the existence or relevance of the skill, much less her lack of it.
In stage two, “conscious incompetence,” bad habits begin to change, but they die hard. “Unconscious competence,” or stage three, is when we’re aware of our actions and can perform the skill without assistance.
In stage four, “conscious competence,” the skill has become second nature. We’ve formed new habits and don’t have to consciously work at it.
It takes energy to change. That’s where collaboration comes in. Good leaders have other skills. They listen. They’re empathetic, comprehensive, discerning, appreciative and evaluative.
Women and conflict are like oil and water. They don’t like to mix. But creativity and idea production come from conflict. We shouldn’t avoid having fierce conversations to address the truth when it’s uncomfortable.
Because there will always be conflict, a few rules of engagement can help make it productive. Remember that everyone is your psychological equal. Others’ needs are legitimate. All sides have some validity and fiction, some truth and some lies. The other person is not necessarily a jerk just because he disagrees with you.
Set aside all of your favorite solutions. Be aware of your emotions. All unvoiced feelings will be acted out passive aggressively.
Create conditions for dialog. This means communicating in a comfortable space and at a time that’s conducive to both parties. George Bernard Shaw warned, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Look at your needs and list them. Mutually explore ways to meet everyone’s needs. Get agreements.
10 tips to take charge
Consider that in nature the caterpillar has to sacrifice its life to become a butterfly. Yours isn’t quite so drastic.
Santovec, Mary Lou. (2011, June). Take Charge of Building Your Campus Leadership Skills. Women in Higher Education, 20(6), p. 1-2.