As both a leadership educator and the director of a department, I keep an eye out for new resources on leadership. One of the books I read recently is Transforming Leaders into Progressmakers: Leadership for the 21st Century by Phillip Clampitt and Robert DeKoch.
Some leadership literature seems to lend itself better to higher education and student affairs than others. I found the key concepts in Progressmakers to be a good fit for a daylong, mid-year retreat I had been planning for the Student Life staff. My intent was for us to evaluate our programs and services based on their reach, impact, and connection to our mission. What was lacking or missing?
Our goal is always progress. We want to make changes that result in something better. In Progressmakers, Clampitt and DeKoch (2011) suggest that improvement requires two separate but equally important activities: “exploring” and “refining.” They define refining as tweaking to optimize what we already offer, and exploring as creating bigger, more revolutionary change. Exploring results in leaps, such as from newspapers to news on the Internet, or from the printed Sears catalog to amazon.com. (The authors contend that Sears could have preempted amazon if it had chosen to leap rather than tweak.)
According to Clampitt and DeKoch, “The most fundamental leadership judgment is determining when the organization needs to explore new opportunities and when it needs to improve (or refine) current practices” (p. 6). My experience in student affairs has been that we tend to favor refining rather than venturing into the risky unknown.
So how might these concepts relate to Student Life? A simple example: A few years ago we decided to temper our “bigger is better” approach to programming by planning some intentionally small, more intimate activities that we thought might be more appealing to some students. We then took the fairly unusual step of initiating a series of informal book discussions. We saw this activity as a tool for facilitating self-awareness, for increasing students’ comfort with conversing, and for promoting reading. For us, this was a leap—and it worked. Today our book discussions draw students, faculty, staff, and community members, and they remain capped at 12. We have since refined our book discussions by offering some via Skype (with the authors joining in!).
Another example: We are constantly fine-tuning our fall leadership conference, which typically draws highly engaged, on-campus students. We are now exploring ways to address the leadership needs and interests of our non-traditional students, who spend very little time, if any, on campus. What topics are relevant to their experiences? What methods and technologies would appeal to them? We want to leap. Ideas?
In what ways are you, your department, and/or your campus refining and exploring? Would you describe yourself as more of a refiner or as an explorer? Does your organization have both (and does it value both)?
Clampitt, P. G. & DeKoch, R. J. (2011). Transforming Leaders into Progressmakers: Leadership for the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.