“Change-Maker vs. Care-Taker?”

Yesterday I re-posted this article from Inside Higher Ed which asked important questions about if we are hired in higher education to be “change-makers” or “care-takers?”

A change maker, the author stated, is innovative, pushes to make needed adjustments in the organization and can also be feared by those who resist any kind of difference in standard operating procedures.

In contrast, a care taker, preserves the status quo and is charged with keeping everything (and everyone?) stagnant.

While I do not agree with every point this author made there is one that really resonated with me:

“I had a leadership and management style that was dramatically different from Mr. Nice Guy before me. He tried to lead by consensus, a model that I think leads to lowest-common-denominator decision-making.”

Don’t get me wrong–getting buy-in is totally important. Gaining allies around a new initiative is really helpful too but ultimately you (as the leader) are challenged with making the decision. Aiming for consensus every single time doesn’t make you a strong leader, it indicates weakness and an inability to lead, in my opinion.

While there were many comments on my Facebook post about this article and this particular quote, what amazed me is that I received several phone calls, a series of text messages and a half dozen emails about this. Clearly it had struck a nerve.

Some folks thought that sentiment about consensus way off the mark. We work in higher ed, a few folks told me, consensus is always necessary.

Others shared their support for the author and her candid thoughts about what happens when we lack action, direction and innovation from colleagues and supervisors.

I believe there should be an urgency to our work. We should be able to demonstrate (every day!) that we earn our salaries, we add value to the student experience and we are contributing in meaningful ways.

If not, we should be fired. No matter how close we are to retirement. No matter how long we have worked for the institution. Because to keep us hurts our department, the institution and (most importantly) does not contribute to student success.

This morning I received an email from Matt Bloomingdale who had struggled with the initial article. His email said:

“I woke up this morning angry. You should be angry too. We’re not the person in that article. You’re better. I’m better. We should be better. So I’m going to fix it.
Because we shouldn’t either be change-makers or caretakers. We should be problem-solvers and action takers.”

Well stated, Matt. Matt challenges us think that we should aim even higher than a change-maker. Because to settle for anything less simply isn’t an option. During a time where the cost of higher education is skyrocketing we have to be able to provide students with the tools necessary for success post-graduation. There is simply too much at stake.

What are your overall thoughts on the article from Inside Higher Ed?

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@annmarieklotz and @mbloomingdale

About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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13 Responses to “Change-Maker vs. Care-Taker?”

  1. reneepdowdy says:

    I like Matt’s twist on what our roles should be. I read the article yesterday and the words and experience the author conveyed continued to come back to me throughout the day. I see the caretakers on campuses and part of the issue are caretakers taking care of caretakers. Seemingly no one willing to do as Matt suggests; to act as problem-solvers and action-takers. Anyone can change things. However, how many of us continue to look for ways to improve the environment around us? What made me feel sad when reading was when the author described not seeing anything else to change. Is it really about change and therefore about you or is it about the needs of your students as seen through your role and responsibilities as a staff member? There may not always be something to change, but there is always something that requires action, requires our attention, and requires our professional talent to drive solutions that will improve the way students experience our campuses.

  2. Well stated, AMK. It is important to remember that the nature of leadership demands that we operate on a spectrum. Certainly, leaders gravitate to their preferred leadership style. Good leaders are able to leverage this. Great leaders, not only leverage their strengths, but recognize the importance that, at times, we need to be versatile in our approach.

    Leaders are charged with making difficult decisions – today more than ever. Change, while important and necessary, can be a tedious process that requires patience, persistence, and resilience. Change can take time. Change can be difficult. But, I’ve found that the best kind of change usually does.

    But, more importantly and perhaps more to point, students do not care if you’re a change-maker or caretaker. State representatives do not care if you’re a change-maker or a caretaker.

    They do care that you’re a problem solver and an action taker.

    • Thanks for inspiring this post, Matt. 🙂 You are right, what it comes down to (and what students care about) is that you CAN help them…that you are WILLING to help them…and that you recognize that they are the REASON why you have a job in the first place 🙂

  3. Patrick Tanner says:

    AMK and Matt, thank you for continuing the conversation. This has my brain firing along the lines of Academically Adrift (Arum & Roksa) as well as We’re Losing our Minds (Keeling and Hersh) and the urgent need for dramatic change in higher education regarding student learning. Keeling and Hersh specifically list ten principles and eight attributes that if implemented, wholesale, “can create a demanding but supportive environment that immerses students in the serious work of learning.”

    It doesn’t sound like a caretaker would be successful in a change of this magnitude. A change-maker would sound better, but I’ll take the advice of AMK and Matt and insist that nothing short of problem-solving and the taking of action will advance higher education in America. I know that we may be talking simple semantics here, but one might venture to say that a change-maker would not be successful if that individual was not a problem solver and an action taker.That being said, I value the differentiation that is implied.

    I believe that many institutions are at a crossroads these days – partly due to the societal pressures in the United States surrounding accountability and the value proposition related to college. Those who can successfully take action and implement positive and lasting change (by building relationships, utilizing problem-solving skills, collaborating with others, etc.) will be those who ultimately are seen to, as AMK states, “add value to the student experience.” Anything less than this myopic focus on learning and anything less than providing a transformative educational experience will come to be seen as unacceptable by students, parents, and employers.

    Or at least it should be.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Patrick. I especially like what you say about how a “change-maker would not be successful if that individual was not a problem solver and an action taker.” Agreed.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I have a completely different definition for changemaker, more based on someone who is facilitating positive social change through purposeful work. I consider myself a “changemaker” because I am motivating students to do the same – challenge the status quo in order to create change and make an impact on the world. I don’t think it needs to be the extreme picture painted by the author (though I’m optimistic). I like to think about how our students would react to the polarization of being either a changemaker or care-taker, and how we can have those conversations with them as they move into the workforce as well.

  5. Being the one who is most often the outsider, the change-maker, the innovator, and the person who wants to try things to find out if they work before just saying they won’t – I agree with the statement. If we continue to do everything the same, who does that help? Us? We’ll just become zombies, mindless workers who just go with the status qua. I may not always like the changes and it can be hard to institute them, but if we never change anything we’d still be in a segregated society. Can all the major changes in history be compared to this? Yes. Is it a big leap? Not so much. Change happens. Change is good. We need to embrace it and strive for making change when it’s possible. Our students today are not the students that I went to college with, and their not going to be like the students come after them – why do we treat them all the same?

    Granted I do agree with everyone who’s saying that we don’t just need change, but we need to be active, attentive, and results driven. I just feel that that comes with change too; it’s intertwined.

  6. Superb analysis! Each new team I supervise/lead there is one primary set of ground rules, covered ASAP.

    “I want your commitment to our mission. If I get it, great; If not, you are in the wrong place. We will make decisions, when possible, as a group. There will be non-negotiable situations in which I alone make the decision. If you have an issue with that, I will always justify it, when I have time. Remember, the buck stops ‘here’ *points to self* and responsibility is not a group concept.”

    Results-driven problem solving. Now THAT rocks!

    #Learner #Individualization #Command #Restorative #Achiever

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