Can’t stop, won’t stop-the end of Master’s year 1

As of tonight, finals week here is officially over. Residents have been moving out and moving on with their lives. My RAs are chomping at the bit to leave. Meanwhile, I am sitting in my office in disbelief that this semester, and this year, is almost over. It passed in the blink of an eye. I was introduced to so many new and different things. I learned a lot. I made new friends and connections that will hopefully last for a very long time. And I learned about myself as a leader.

Coming into this year, I was completely unsure of whether I would make it or not. There were times when I considered quitting, moving back home, and trying something else. It was hard, and it was lonely. I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be. But, I’ve also learned a lot about myself as a professional. I learned what works for me, and what doesn’t. I’ve become more organized and more efficient. I’ve been proactive. I’ve decided that I want to gain as much experience in as many different things that I possibly can to help me prepare for the professional world. I’ve learned what it’s like to supervise student staff members. I’ve learned the importance of consistency, and of keeping others accountable. I’ve learned how hard it is to live on a strict budget, and how NOT fun it is to completely depend on others for your funds. But most importantly, I’ve learned that I CAN DO THIS. I’m doing what I need to do to set myself up for success. I’ve earned the respect of my supervisors, colleagues, and staff members. And even though this has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I’ve come out of it stronger and with the knowledge that everything I’ve done this year made a difference. Even though I wish some things were different, I’ve made the best of my situation and left it all out on the floor. I can honestly say that I tried my hardest to do a good job this year-and it showed.

I’m not in this just to do what is expected of me. I’m in this to leave my mark, to make a difference, and to give this all I have. For me, this Master’s program is not just a stepping stone, something that I’m only doing that’s required. This is an experience. This is my chance to prove to myself, and to everyone else, that I’m capable and qualified. I’m not going to just barely squeak by, not going to do the bare minimum that’s required. I’m going to go above and beyond, because to do anything that’s not my best work is just a waste. I’m going to change things. I’m going to start new initiatives. I’m going to make a difference. Who cares if I’m only here for two years? In these two years I want to feel like I did everything I possibly could to make this the best experience possible. And now, at the end of this first year…I’m glad to say that it’s true.

The leadership class that I took this semester, which inspired this blog, was very interesting. I definitely learned a lot and had a chance to reflect on my leadership and the other leadership that I have observed over the years. I’ve also enjoyed keeping up with this blog. So even though the class is over, I have decided I will continue to post from time to time. Because after all, even though the year is over-leadership never stops!

Role modeling-more effective than we think

With the recent events in Boston (close to home for me…#bostonstrong), a lot of speculation has surrounded the suspects and the motives behind the unthinkable act. Was the younger one following the older? Were they working together? What influenced them to commit such an act of terror? Who was the role model in that situation?

I have also noticed over the past year how important role modeling is. When I was a RA, it seemed like a burden to be a role model. We lived in a “fishbowl,” and we always had to be on our toes. As a supervisors of RAs, I’ve tried to pass on that information to them, but some of them just do not seem to understand. They want to be able to live their own lives-and I understand that, because I also had to live it. But on the other hand, they have taken on a leadership role, and it’s part of the deal. People don’t realize that when you’re a leader, you’re constantly being watched-partly because people want to see you fail. They want to be able to say, “You told me to do one thing, but now you’re doing the opposite! You hypocrite.” People don’t like being told what to do. But it’s also partly because they may look up to you, and want to aspire to act like you. In the case of a RA, you’re probably older, more accomplished, and wiser about college because you’ve been living through it for a while. If you’re in another leadership position, you’ve attained something that many people aspire towards. Some could be envious. Some could wonder how you got to where you are. So they watch your actions and see what influences you.

I have come into contact with numerous situations where a supervisor did not serve as a good role model for their supervisees. A lot of people seem to check out, or they just don’t care. However, what does that say to your supervisees? They can do whatever they want? And then how are they serving our students? …The short answer is that they’re not. Whether you’re planning on going into student affairs or gaining another leadership position, maybe you should think twice. Are you prepared to be a role model and do all that you’re asked to do? If you’re not a motivated person, lazy, or just don’t care, I suggest you either change your ways or find another career. You will not be serving anyone if you can’t be a good role model and do what you’re supposed to do.

Lollipop Moments

I miss all of my former residents and coworkers. I try to keep in contact with them via Facebook and other various social networking sites. I had been chatting with one of my former residents (now a RA) this week, and last night he posted this on my Facebook wall:

So Danielle. Yesterday in Staff meeting we watched the TED Talk “Leading with Lollipops” and I want to give my lollipop to you because I want to thank you for everything you did last year to help me prepare for RAing. You da best.

He then posted a picture of himself holding a lollipop and this link:

I had seen the video before a couple of times and LOVE it. And I am so honored to have been chosen for a lollipop moment.

I think Drew Dudley brings up a lot of key issues when it comes to leadership. Sometimes, it’s scary to think we can have that great of an effect on someone’s life. We think of ourselves as unimportant, and that we can’t make a difference. The only acts of leadership that are recognized in today’s society are those that, as he put it, “change the world.” We all need to make this world a better place, no question. But why can’t we do that with simple, small acts every day? When most people think of their favorite leaders, who do they think of? Politicians, activists, and celebrities. These people get to do things that not a whole lot of people get to do. They do great things, sure. But we need to realize that there are great things happening around us every day, and we need to recognize them. Maybe someone made you think about switching your career. Maybe someone provided you with encouragement. Maybe someone is supporting you make changes in your life when no one else will. I have people who come to mind, and it makes me wonder: have I told them how they helped change my life?

Sometimes, these people aren’t what others might call “leaders” right off the bat. (Mine are, but that’s besides the point.) These people could be your friends or your family. They could be your coworkers, or in Drew Dudley’s case, a complete stranger. Perhaps that’s why so many people don’t think to speak up and think to tell them their thanks. They’re not the “standouts.” Not many people are willing to call themselves leaders as well, so we are reluctant to place that title on other people…because, as Dudley says, “We have made leadership something greater than ourselves.”

One of my favorite quotes from the video is “We celebrate birthdays, where all you have to do is not die for 365 days, and yet we let people who have made our lives better walk around without knowing it, and every single one of you have been a catalyst for a lollipop moment.” We just don’t know it yet!

So share the lollipop wealth. Tell someone how much they influenced you. Make them, and yourself, believe that everyone can be a leader.

Authentic leadership and trigger moments

Today in class we began to talk about authentic leadership, and what that means. At the beginning of class, we were asked what we thought it meant. I wrote:

Authentic leadership is where the leader is transparent. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They truly believe in themselves and in others. They have the same expectations of everyone and of themselves, they are consistent. I believe it is the way in which someone leads and expresses their beliefs. These leaders readily show their emotions so that their followers know when they are excited, happy, or sad and angry. They are true to themselves and true to the group.
After discussing it with the class and learning more about different definitions, I added:
An authentic leader is someone who not only knows a lot about themselves, but about the others that they work with. They know what needs to be done based on the environment that they work in. They practice what they preach, but know when is a good time to share their beliefs and when to hold off. They are confident and know themselves and how they are as a person and their identity. They are willing to share themselves, or parts of themselves.
We then began to speak about the moments that changed us and affected how we began to lead. Our professor called them “Trigger moments”. The moments where you look back and know that the moment changed how you view things and how you came to hold your morals and beliefs. As an authentic leader, it is important to recognize those moments because we need to know what we believe, how we got here, and what our experiences taught us.
Well. I’m not usually one for opening myself up, but I know that this is important. So here we go!
Two trigger moments for my life actually happened before I was born:
1. My mother’s sister, my aunt, was killed in a car accident at the age of nineteen. The person who was driving the car fell asleep, and they rolled off the road and into a tree. He survived…she did not. My mom doesn’t talk about it very often but over time I’ve gathered that it was one of the hardest things she and her family ever had to go through, and I’m sure it changed them.
2. My father was picked on a lot. He was a heavier child growing up and I guess people were mean to him. I don’t really know the details because he’s never shared them, but that’s all I know.
As a result of their experiences, they brought me up kind of sheltered. I was not allowed to do many things growing up that my peers were. My father refused to let me watch Saturday morning cartoons unless they had some sort of educational value. When I turned sixteen, I was not allowed to get a job, even though I wanted one. I had a stricter curfew than my friends, and was not allowed to drive on the highway even after I got my license. My latter high school years were spent fighting for freedom, any ounce that I could get. When it came time for me to look into colleges, I was looking for a place that would feel home the second that I stepped on it. None of the state schools nearby had that feel for me. I was looking into elementary ed programs (partially because my parents wanted me to) and wanted a good program…but also somewhere that felt right. Finally we traveled to a school about 45 minutes away…and I fell in love. It was the nicest school that I had been to and luckily had a great program. However, it was out of state, which meant that it would be a lot more expensive. My parents were not sure if they would be able to swing it.
And then I got an opportunity for one of my state schools. I would be able to have a full scholarship-minus room and board. I would have to live at home. The school was only 30 minutes away. My parents, especially my father, were gun-ho about it. I, however, was not. At that time I was near the breaking point at my household. I needed to get out and experience new things, and I felt that living at home would hinder me. But all my parents could think about was the money. My father even told me that the scholarship was an answer to his prayer, and that by not taking it I would be taking the answer away. That crushed me. It was the hardest decision I had ever had to make at that point in my life, but my parents agreed to let me go for one year, see how finances were, and then determine if I could stay. When I moved in, I was so happy and I wasn’t even homesick. I had finally gained the freedom I wanted, and I learned so much about myself and what kind of person I wanted to become that year. That was my first trigger point.
Which then brings me to my next one. I had become an RA my second year at school to ensure that I would be able to continue to go to school (my father was the one who knew about RAs and suggested it to me…and so I was kind of forced into it but I’m actually glad for that one). I met so many new and different people and loved helping people. It was what I had loved about being a teacher-getting to help kids and seeing that look of “Ah-ha!” on their faces. I did face a lot of different struggles, but managed to do well in my job and in my schoolwork. During my junior year, I had heard about a group called Future Leaders in Student Affairs, which would be exploring the different options in the field. I thought that maybe I could continue doing something similar to being a RA while getting my Master’s so I joined. I learned more than I thought I would, and loved it too. I had no idea coming in that people could make careers out of it. It had me reconsidering my options, but I eventually settled on getting my Master’s in Education and having a graduate assistantship within Res Life. Then I could move into my teaching career. Well, I started going into classrooms, and at first I enjoyed it, but not as much as I anticipated. And then…I hated it.
During the fall of my senior year I decided to get a part-time job on top of being a RA to help support myself. I got a job at Starbucks, and I really enjoyed it. However, with my education program, my RA job, and the new job, it was too much. I was barely in my room anymore and wasn’t completing my programs in a timely manner. I was slipping, and on top of that I really disliked being in the classroom that I was in. I was not enjoying it at all anymore. And then, after my birthday and right before Thanksgiving, I got really sick. It knocked me out for about a week, and I had to miss a lesson that I was supposed to teach and meetings with my residents. When I say that it put me behind for the rest of the semester, I mean it REALLY put me behind. I couldn’t catch up with anything that I was supposed to be doing. Finally, I went to meet with my professor to talk about a grade, and I ended up getting a C, which was extremely unusual for me. And the thing was, I could honestly say I put as much time and effort as I possibly could have into the project and did the best that I could. After the meeting, I went to the bathroom and cried. I reflected on the past couple of months and realized that I hadn’t been very happy at all. I was wearing myself out-and for what? For something that I didn’t even really like to do. And if I was giving my all to something and all I could end up with was a C-then something needed to change. I didn’t want to give up my RA job, and I didn’t want to give up my Starbucks job either…but I could give up teaching. I already had enough credits to get an English degree…so I decided that is what I needed to do, and then go into Higher Education. That was not an easy decision by any means either. I had already visited where I would be student teaching the next semester. But I knew that it was the right one. My parents, however, were not so keen on it yet again. My father had his heart set on me being a teacher, and thought I was giving up. It wasn’t that by any means. I was deciding what was actually right for me and changing my mind. I don’t regret it for one second. I know this is going to be as rewarding a profession as teaching, and I love my students.
Moving here, however, has been another really difficult process for me. I didn’t expect it at first, but it has been four years since I’ve gone through a transition. But I recognized that and allowed myself to adjust to the change. It has been depressing at times, and I miss my friends more than I can say. However I have learned a lot yet again about myself and about my friendships. My family is supporting me, finally, and I’m happy about that at least. I have a feeling that at the end of this experience I will be able to call it a trigger moment for me.

Decisions, decisions

Since the end of January, I have been going through the ACUHO-I internship search process. For anyone that doesn’t know, ACUHO-I is the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, and it provides internships to undergraduate and graduate students for a summer. It was a long and lengthy process, full of lots of interviews and time in-between to wonder who would offer and who wouldn’t. I took detailed notes and explored different options. And still, when the offers came, I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d be getting different experiences, but which experience is the RIGHT one? Even though it was very difficult, I made my decision, and honestly? I couldn’t feel better about it. I know, somehow, that it’s the right thing for me.

As leaders, we understand that every decision affects us, sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in big ones. But is the ability to choose the “right” decision something that is inherent, or something that has to be learned? I’ve learned that I need to talk about decisions with others. It’s how I normally process things. I like to get people’s feedback before I make a big decision. However, this could be a downfall as a leader. I need to be confident in my own decisions. So, I’ve also learned other ways that I come to a decision. For whatever reason, pro and con lists are huge for me. I need to be able to see something visually in front of me that shows me the benefits and downfalls of the decision I’m trying to make. For my mentees and supervisees, I encourage the same thing. It really does put everything in perspective. I’ve also learned that I can ask people for their feedback, but in the end I am the one who needs to make the decision. Not that I expect people to make the decision for me, but not everyone is going to say “Well, if it were ME…” and I actually appreciate that.

Overall, this process has shown me what the job search is going to be like…and I’m terrified. It’s going to be magnified about 100 times more…AH! But at least I know what I’m getting into now! And I can look forward to the awesome feeling of making a good decision.

Situational Leadership

For our class this week, we read about situational leadership, and I think it describes how I use leadership to a T. Basically, Northouse states that different employees may be at different developmental stages. Some may be new and willing to jump right in. Others have experience but lack motivation. Others still are experienced and motivated. So what should you do in each situation? You cannot treat each employee the same.
Northouse describes four styles of leadership: high directive-low supportive, high directive-high supportive, low directive-high supportive, and low directive-low supportive. The first style is one that is adopted for a new employee. The next is for those who are moderately competent but low in commitment. Then it is those who are moderately competent but lacking commitment, and then the last is for those who have high commitment and high motivation.
Personally, I know that with the people I have supervised, the new ones definitely need more direction. Then I’ve also had people who were competent but had no commitment whatsoever…and it was their third year on the job. They were the hardest to supervise for me. I’ve also come to find that age doesn’t matter. I have supervisees who have only been a RA for 2 years and are the most willing and most committed to their job. The trick with these supervisees is to make sure that they continue at this high level and that we don’t let them slip so that they lack motivation and commitment. We’re currently talking about a new leadership commitment that may encourage others to continue to step up.
The problem, as I mentioned, is switching leadership styles for one person. Some people may need one to start, but may shift to another. It’s going to take some skill and finesse to realize what type of leadership a person needs. But that’s what gaining experience is all about!

What it means to be a mentor

At the end of our class on Tuesday, we began discussing being a mentor. It is a part of leadership, and an important one at that, especially for those of us in the higher education field. There are no undergraduate courses (to my knowledge) that prepare students to go into the field. Not many people start college thinking “I want to work in Res Life!” or “I’m really interested in Academic Affairs.” I had no idea the opportunities that were available to me until I became a RA, met my mentor, and joined Future Leaders in Student Affairs. So for me, being a mentor means introducing students to a whole new world.

We started discussing certain situations that might come up when mentoring someone. My professor was giving us all sorts of different situations and responses that may not be necessarily the correct route to go. He was playing devil’s advocate to the responses that we come up with, saying how our responses could affect our mentee. It got me thinking: mentors really do have such a large affect on the students they are mentoring. It is important to know how and when to give advice, when to voice your opinion, and when to say anything at all. It’s taken me a little time to realize when to do each of these things, and I’m pretty sure I still don’t know when to give advice some times.

I started becoming a mentor as a RA. A lot of my residents would come to me and ask advice on what to do in situations. I felt like I could relate in so many ways, but it’s important to remember that the conversation is not all about you. It’s about getting to the root of the problem in the situation, and then offering your advice and outlook on the situation. It’s so tempting to launch into how you solved your problem, but does that really teach the student anything? I don’t think so.

I’ve been in pretty close contact this week with a former resident (who is now one of my best friends) because she’s interviewing for a new leadership position next year. However, if she does not get the position, she would want to keep another position which she has held this year, but would need to apply again. She was afraid that if she applied for it, the hiring committee would think that she was not serious about the new position. I listened to her talk for a while, asked a couple of questions, and then asked her, “Okay, so hypothetically, if you don’t get the new position, will you be upset that you didn’t apply for the other one?”

She thought for a minute, but eventually replied, “Yeah.” Well, then problem solved!

I love bringing new situations and new issues to light for mentees, students, anyone really. And I love when people can do that for me. I think it’s one of the most important things about being a leader, and a mentor. Our job is to educate and to guide. And what we say do has a large impact, but in the end we need to keep our mentee’s, student’s, and resident’s best interests at heart.