Today I celebrate one year of employment at my (not so new) job.
In higher education we often talk about the job search process, the first 90 days in a position and how to exit with grace during your last 30 days but we don’t often discuss the feelings associated with that middle part–the actual act of learning, executing, and leading from within your current role.
This first year reiterated for me the importance of some things I have always believed as well as introduced me to new ideas that I will take with me into my second year:
1) Leading and managing people will always be the most complex, challenging and rewarding parts of our job: If there are 25 people on your staff then there will be 25 different sets of needs, beliefs and work styles.
While this is a fairly basic concept to talk about it feels very differently in practice. You can’t please everyone. I always say that on any given day my decisions will result in upsetting about 50% of the staff and pleasing the other 50%. In this role it is necessary to consult, collaborate and deliberate but at the end of the day it’s on YOU as the leader to make a decision and to know that no matter what there will be staff members who won’t agree.
After one year–and some painful lessons–I have learned to trust my instincts more, explain decisions more fully so that the whole staff understands, and to be able to make decisions that might be unpopular if the end goal warrants it. It’s not a perfect science but we are in the business of leading and managing people and there are too many variables for it to ever be “perfect.” Instead I will settle for understanding. If the staff understands why a decision was made (even if they don’t agree with it) then progress (often slow and steady ) is being made.
2) Consult with a trusted mentor outside of your institution to gain perspective and insight during when navigating new challenges: Your network is invaluable during a time of transition. It can be incredibly helpful to talk through a new idea, consult about how to handle a difficult situation or simply have an outlet to vocalize what you are thinking.
The is the first position I have ever had where there is no other direct peer colleague who is doing exactly the same thing as I am, so having a person to share thoughts and ideas with can help to provide clarity.
3) Learn what the institution values–and what they do not: One might think that all institutions of higher education have similar core values but I have not found that to be true throughout my career.
My successes this year came when I was mindful of of the campus culture. Conversely, my failures were due to my inability to understand a particular campus value. Any idea or decision–no matter how warranted, how logical or how needed–will be unpopular if it is not viewed through the lens of campus culture. Learn it, understand it and do your best to appreciate it even if it differs dramatically from what you have experienced previously.
4) Know that it takes a full year to 18 months to understand all of the facets of your job: As we move up the complexity of duties, expansion of oversight and expectations around visibility/availability increases. Let yourself be new and don’t expect to know everything in 90 days. Having a strong, competent team around you also allows you to take the time to learn the job.
5) What motivates you might not motivate others: Take time to learn what makes people feel valued, appreciated and wanting to work hard for your department.
6) Your job description may be out of date by the time you step foot on campus: Roles like this call for people to use their unique talents and plug into the areas of campus that can most use their assistance.
I have been a part of three major initiatives since my very first day of work that are not listed anywhere in my position description and while that is absolutely fine it means that my job is constantly evolving based on the needs of the department and division. Be adaptable to the current needs and plug into wherever you can be useful.
7) Because of #6, your staff may not always know how you spend your day: Be as transparent as possible with sharing information: I am a firm believer that there is very little professional information (from meetings, projects, new initiatives, etc.) that cannot be shared widely.
This first year has reinforced for me the power of resiliency, the blessing of having a strong leadership team, the joy of small victories, the importance of forgiveness (for myself and others), and the gift of another year to do better in the next 365. Thanks to everyone who has been a part of this journey!
What lessons have you learned in your first year?
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