PSEL: The Quasi-Reluctant Leader (Mid Year Checkup)

Why Leadership?

When I’ve been telling people that I was in the PSEL program, more than a few asked if this was something I “really wanted.” It’s a fair question because leadership done well is hard work and usually without immediate gratification. I will admit that I have been a little hesitant to become someone who often has to put out fires and who would have to talk to lots of people throughout the day. I’m also not sure I can bring myself to wear panty hose and high heels again either.

On the other hand, modern working life, particularly in higher education, presents tasks in which leadership skills may be needed, even if a person is not a “leader.” In particular, tech experts need to explain complicated issues and make recommendations for non-technical experts. They may even have to bring up potential problems to management and explain why it needs to be addressed. In a similar vein, an instructor may need leadership skills to envision and implement innovation in their classroom.

Some people may not want to be a traditional leader, but do want a seat at the table to help influence conditions in their workplace. But once you’re at the table, you may be exposed to issues in the bigger picture you hadn’t ever realized were there before. At that point you may need to adjust your priorities and strategies to focus on what works for both you and the university. In other words, being a good leader means having to think about the group and not just about what you want. Just because you are “in charge” doesn’t mean you can or should do whatever you want.

Mid Year Progress

I was trying to assess where I am and if I have made any progress. I can say that the programs and reading have made me think more critically of what it means to be a leader. Even though I think of myself as being analytical, I was actually thinking of leadership in terms of getting what I want rather than thinking about the needs of the team/organization.

An interesting benefit for me is that I am learning to understand leadership as a function of anthropology. A good leader understands his or her culture and uses it to leverage a more positive outcome. For instance, a common mistake in asking students to use technology in their coursework is that it will be “intuitive” to them. However, I have seen from past experience that technology is far less intuitive when it’s related to a course. More documentation for using Facebook in a course is needed than using Facebook in general in order for students to succeed.

Having observed this, I also have a leadership challenge to explain to faculty why they do need to provide additional support, even make sample documentation for them. Using anecdotes or my personal teaching experience can help bring enough social capital to make my case. Being confrontational or dictatorial definitely will be counterproductive in this case since faculty generally feel they should follow their own instincts.

Have I put this all into practice yet? I’m still working on learning to express myself calmly. When it gets hot and humid, it gets very difficult and even knowing it’s a trigger point doesn’t always work. But I am getting better at reflecting what I should do the next time. Because there is always a next time.

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