It’s been nearly four months in my new position and they have gone by so quickly. At times I think I am moving in many different directions at once — my staff is split between two physical locations, and so it becomes a challenge to connect with all of them in meaningful ways throughout the week.
Matthew Dean has it right — administrators can feel like their attention is pulled in so many different directions. How do we in Student Affairs handle this? By no means an expert, I do have a few tips for new staff at the Director level on how I have been able to more effectively “manage up” as well as remain available to my very dedicated and knowledgeable staff.
First, try to maintain your focus on the key goals of your office. Spending time on ancillary activities that do not produce results that improve your “bottom line,” whether that be student learning, personal development, or intellectual growth. When your office or staff are engaged with external partners, remain committed to what matters and be attentive to the needs of your office to obtain your goals. It is hard to do, but remember that we can only control what we do — the impact of others’ actions we’ll have to deal with, but we only have so much influence.
Second, make time every week to connect with staff on outside-of-work issues. Director-level staff, especially if they have a small number of direct reports, are going to be connecting with their team frequently. I had to look up the above quote, which I have seen attributed to John C. Maxwell, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Zig Zieglar (sidenote: Isn’t the internet funny?). As a leader I am looked to at times for the “right answer,” and referred to as an expert in our operations. Even so, if your staff does not believe you care about them and trust them to do their best work, they are unlikely to follow you or to approach you with real issues and concerns.
In another post I mentioned a book I had read that focused on management and starting Mondays off well. One of the key concepts was to approach issues openly and with a desire to learn. As I am still new in my position and do not always have the answers, I have found myself using this advice nearly daily. The advice is this: Ask your staff what they think and what their preferred solution is for the given issue. Often they will have creative solutions that preserve relationships as well as support the organization’s long-term goals. At certain times, it takes some probing questions, but often the intuition of staff is consistent with college policies and meets the needs of all concerned. So third: Listen, deeply, and openly, to your staff. Every team has a quarterback, but the QB doesn’t reach the end zone by themselves.
Lastly, point out improvement and progress at every opportunity. But don’t stop there. “Manage up” by communicating what is working well and what needs some attention to your supervisor(s). Many academic advisors and career counselors are familiar with Appreciative Advising and Appreciative Inquiry. I find myself using these tools daily as I “fan the flames” of positive actions on the part of my staff, encouraging them to maintain focus on our goals and objectives while conducting daily business. This frees me to think more broadly about our work and how we can add value to our external partners, while also maintaining strong relationships on campus and with those that made decisions on resources.
With all that said, it’s a learning and growing process. I continue to meet with colleagues on and off campus, cultivate relationships, and develop institutional knowledge about our office’s mission, goals, and values. In this way, I build relationships and ensure that each of our staff are seen as key contributors to our office and the institution’s success.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Eric Stoller on Free Agents in SA/ “Side Hustles”