Learning To Let Go: Why Delegation Is Hard (And Why It Matters)

Welcome back to the reenergized GotDegrees.com! After taking an unexpected 11 month vacation from this space, I’ve decided to reopen my old blog and to write again. Where was I, you may ask? How does running five professional staff searches and a 75 person student staff search, managing a RA program and residential region/helping to run an office through a complete staff turnover, student deaths, and morale crises, and reestablishing myself in the Greater Boston area sound to you?

Yeah, I hated it as much as you probably hated reading it, so… let’s leave it in the past where it belongs.

I’ve learned more about student affairs, management and organizational behavior, and myself in the past fifteen months than I had in the nearly ten years prior that I’ve been doing this work, and I figured it was time to share some of that with others. Having been in the position of mid-level manager, hiring manager, program director, departmental representative and more in my (not-so-new) role, I actually feel like I have something to say again, so hopefully this will be the last of the “I’m back!” posts that go up with no subsequent posts for weeks. No more writer’s block for me!

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Well, maybe not ALL… let’s start with a post a week and go from there…

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what have I actually learned? Before we get there, let’s look back at a quote from my last post in November 2015:

From personal experience, there are days where it feels more like midnight just struck, your carriage turned into a pumpkin and you’re miles from home with no glass slippers on your feet or a dime in your pocket (and you work in education, so let’s emphasize that no dimes part).  For instance, I spent the better part of my evening on Friday night and tonight making sure sheets and towels were dry and clean for a candidate’s apartment – not because I have a fetish for clean laundry, but because it needed to get done and I didn’t have someone else around to check on it. It happens.

Time to call bullshit on myself: I could have TOTALLY asked someone else to wash those sheets and towels… but I didn’t want to ask. Why does this matter? Over the past fifteen months since I got promoted, I’ve met more unhappy people in this field than I would like to admit. They all have their own reasons for being unhappy, but one of the biggest ones is that they feel overworked, underpaid and not at all connected to the reasons why they do this work. Some of that is totally valid – SAPros learn early on to do more with less and to give 120% all of the time, which is totally unhealthy and unsustainable. However, some of the unhappiness can only be traced back to us. That’s right – most of us are miserable because we choose to be.

How many of the people that you know in this field are Type A, wannabe SuperSAPros in Clark Kent disguises? How many of us ARE the ones in the disguises? You can put your hand down now – I totally can’t see you through the screen (I promise!).. Too many times, we take too much on for any number of reasons: you don’t want to ask someone else to help and burden them, no one else can do things like you want them done, taking the time to explain takes longer than just doing it yourself, insert your own example here… None of these reasons are ultimately valid, and we know that – nor are any of them the REAL reason why we can’t let go in most cases.

So what is that real reason? For many of us, I’d guess that the real reason is that so much of what we do has become part of our identity that letting go can mean letting go of who we are. In moving up, I’ve learned that many of the roles I fulfilled as an entry-level staff member are best done by the folks in those roles – because they know their students and their populations better than I ever will at this point. I like to say to my staff now that I’ve had my turn at doing what they do – and that I loved it – but that now it’s time for them to do the same. So much of what makes many of us miserable can be directly tied to micromanagement by supervisors who don’t get that reliving their glory days on the ground floor isn’t what leading is about – mostly because they haven’t expanded their understanding of who they are beyond the “fun patrol” and “big brother/sister” roles that entry level staff are stereotypically put in.

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Last year, I took on so many of the moving parts of the program that I run in an attempt to make sure everything ran smoothly that I cheated my staff out of learning opportunities and I ran myself ragged. I got to the point where I questioned whether I wanted to continue doing the job I was doing. It took a couple of our since departed staff to say that they were leaving because they didn’t have access to the opportunities they needed – opportunities I was essentially hogging because I was on the surface nervous about their abilities or eager to prove myself in a new role (but really because I was being selfish) – for me to realize that I hadn’t done well with the most important part of being a leader: leading others through the process of learning and growing rather than dragging them through a rehash of my own early career years. I ended the academic year feeling like I had failed them, but I also ended the year with a plan to avoid doing the same to our new recruits.

I’ll talk more next week about what I’ve done specifically this year to be a better delegator, but I leave you with the following thought to chew on: Eventually if you love what you do and stay in this field long enough, you end up in roles that realistically are less connected to the day to day student experience and more about building up those who ARE connected to that experience. What sense does it make to take that experience that many of us loved so much and that motivated us to move up in the first place from the people that follow us? What do we lose when we refuse to get out of our team’s way?  What do we become?

Let’s put a pin in that for now – more on delegating next Wednesday! Thanks for reading my musings and hope to see you around here again!

J

One Month In The Middle: 5 Lessons Learned So Far

What all middle managers aspire to be...
What all mid-level managers (hopefully) aspire to be… (middlemanagerofjustice.com)

Hey folks! It’s definitely been a while since I shared the great news about my professional transition with you, and trust me when I tell you that A LOT has changed. I’m about a month into my new role as a mid-level student affairs professional and have already learned quite a bit about what that will mean for me and for the staff that I’ll be working with over the next year. I’m hopeful to take GotDegrees in a new direction as I settle into my new status as a mid-level manager and write from a new perspective; this will hopefully mean that I’ll be delving into new areas in addition to bringing back some of my previous series and topics and looking at them with fresh eyes. For now, I wanted to start out with a quick post on some of what I’ve already noticed in myself and in my new environment now that I’ve moved up.

What I’ve Learned In My First Month “In The Middle”:

  1. Transitioning to the middle takes time and patience. If I had to compare what the first few days in a new mid-level position feel like to some other experience, I think I’d probably say it’s like that moment when you wake up on your 21st birthday (or any birthday, really) and people ask you if you feel different. Unless you’re at the age where you’re finding new aches and pains, your answer probably was “not really.” I imagine that part of this was because I’ve moved to a new institution – people who move up at a place they’re familiar with might feel differently. For me, however, it’s been a process of building new levels of my professional persona in addition to learning a new place and new people. I expected to be thrown into the fire and to be expected to take on much more than I did initially. My new colleagues and supervisors have been great about letting me ease into my role while giving me plenty to do, so it’s been a pretty smooth transition in so far.
  2. There is more to life in student affairs than working directly with students. Most of us get into this work because we like working with students… I mean, I doubt SAPros are in it for the fame, prestige and great paycheck. J As I was preparing for a mid-level role and job searching, I heard from many people who were already in mid-level roles that I should prepare to have less direct contact with students; it’s early August so this one’s a bit harder to assess (and with student staff training in a week I’ll be around students 12+ hours a day for a week) but when things are up and running, I know that my staff will see students far more than I will. To be honest, I’m more than OK with that- I’m learning to love the other aspects of the job like working with my professional staff team, developing our programs, and thinking forward to the work I’ll be doing this year to help move my department forward. Speaking of my staff…
  3. Being in the middle means you’re the one in charge- like it or not. I haven’t had to make huge, earth-shaking decisions in the month that I’ve served in my new role, but I have noticed that others look to me for guidance and assistance, especially for projects or programs that are in my portfolio. In entry-level roles, you can usually send the e-mail, call or walk-in up to your supervisor or the point person that runs a particular process- when you’re the person who is running the process, you don’t have anywhere to hide (as I’ve learned in the past few days!) and people are depending on you in ways you may not have experienced in prior roles
  4. Your time is rarely, if ever, your own. In previous roles, I was usually able to get through my daily to-do list with some time to spare; as a mid-level professional, I’ve come into my office each day with a list and usually end up leaving with some of that list incomplete. Granted, it’s August, the busiest time of the year for folks in my functional area, but the difference is still very noticeable- and it’s made me think about where I choose to spend my time and what I do with it.
  5. Sometimes the perfect truly is the enemy of the good. I’ve made it no secret before that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. However, being in a leadership role at the mid-level requires decision making and directing a team, and sometimes that means you have to do so without all of the puzzle pieces perfectly in place. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few weeks, it’s that not everything has to be perfect the first time around- part of the fun is taking the risk, seeing what happens and tweaking before you try again.
If you've read this blog before, you probably know this is more my speed...
If you’ve read this blog before, you probably know this is more my speed… (auralnauts.com)

Clearly, I’ve learned a bit more than these five points- but I do want you to return to read more from me every once in a while so that’s all for now. I had planned to be more active in this space this summer, but for a host of personal and professional reasons that didn’t happen. Now that my schedule has changed, I don’t think that posting three times a week will work for me- but my goal is to write weekly (and to actually do it this time!) so you’ll hear from me again soon. Until then, take care and Happy Opening and Student Staff Training Season to all!

J

Mission Accomplished: Words of Wisdom At the End of My Mid-Level Search

congratsonnewjobWelcome (or welcome back)! I honestly did not intend to leave this space untouched for nearly six weeks, but I hope that the news that I’m back to share as well as some of my personal advice will more than make up for my protracted absence.

So… remember my first real post of 2015? The one in which I shared some of my personal and professional resolutions for the year (and royally put my foot in my mouth)? Remember my top professional resolution? Let me refresh your memory:

Move to the next level in my career in Student Affairs- a mid-level position. 

I’ve been doing Student Affairs professionally for about three years now, and I’ve had the opportunity to really develop my skills over the years, particularly in staff supervision, crisis management, and counseling and advising students. Part of the reason that I started GotDegrees was a desire for something more professionally, and over the past semester I’ve realized that it may be time for a new professional challenge. In the coming months, I’ll be taking some of my own advice regarding the job search and advancing in the field, so stay tuned to hear more about what happens in this arena and where I end up. If you’re reading this and know of mid-level positions in Residence Life, Student Support or Student Activities, let me know!

To be quite honest, part of the reason I haven’t been on GotDegrees is because I’ve spent much of my free time seeing to fulfill this resolution. As we all know, the job search process is inherently stressful- spending a great deal of your time putting yourself out there for the judgment of others can wreak havoc on your spirit if you have to do it long enough. Working, applying to jobs, trying to have some semblance of a social life in March snow/April downpours did a number on my motivation to write.

May, however, is only 1/3 over and the moment I’ve been waiting for months to share with you is here- I can finally announce here that I will be moving into a new mid-level role at Brandeis University in Community Living!! I’ll be the Assistant Director of Operations and Community Development– which means overseeing people (4 entry-level professionals, 70+ undergraduates), programs (the Community Advisor program) and processes (operations work like opening, closing, room selection, social media, website updates, etc). The role is exactly what I’ve been looking for, and I can’t wait to get started in early July. Thanks again to everyone who provided advice and support, helped me make connections, read resumes and cover letters, etc.- couldn’t have done this without you!

I know that there are a number of people out there who are going through the same search process for a mid-level role that I just finished, so in addition to using this post to share my exciting news with you, I wanted to share some quick tips on what helped me in this process:

  • Apply early and often- but don’t be afraid to submit an application later in the game. Most positions begin review of applications two to three weeks after the initial public posting, so you want to get your materials in quickly. However, getting something in later than that doesn’t mean you can’t make it- on the contrary, spending time tailoring your materials and proofreading them can make your application stand out from the earlier submissions.
  • Tap into your network- make sure your friends, mentors and sponsors can speak about your current abilities. I did this more gradually than I probably should have- in my prior post on seeking jobs, I noted that many positions are achieved in part due to networking and I still assert that this is the case. My colleagues and mentors provided immeasurable support by sending me postings, telling me about jobs that were about to open up, giving me advice on how to talk about my experiences- but none of this would have happened without me reaching out to them and without me keeping them updated. It truly takes a village to find a new job, so find your people early and tap into them.
  • Practice, practice, practice for phone and on-campus interviews! I know that my tendency is to be way too wordy (I do that in my posts here too occasionally…), so I tried to come up with short responses that used examples as a way to get my point across. Make sure that you can easily answer questions about why you want a position, why you’re ready to move up, and how you handle topics like: supervision, budgeting, collaborating across campus, working in teams, organization, how you deal with failure, finding your own work/life balance (as opposed to someone else creating it for you), your personal student affairs philosophy, and how you see the role you’re going for fitting your overall trajectory. Get someone to do mock interviews or practice out loud and time yourself at home if needed.
  • Ask for feedback when things don’t go your way. This one can feel awkward- the last thing I want to do when someone tells me I’m not a good fit for something is to ask them what I could have done better. However, you get a better sense of how to go forward and in turn become a better professional. Don’t always expect feedback, though- sometimes hiring managers aren’t allowed to share it out with candidates.
  • Remember that YOU are interviewing THEM as much as THEY are interviewing YOU. Ask good, solid questions about the role, the office, division, institution, students, stakeholders, etc. As I said in an earlier post, first impressions and behavior shown during the search can be indicators of what the environment would be like- so if you can’t see yourself there, it’s probably an indication that something might be off. Take time to be reflective and to listen to that “inner voice” when you’re walking on campus- it can pay off big time!
  • Give thanks- and not just to your potential supervisor. I like to write thank-you notes to everyone I interact with during an interview- even students if I can- and to reach out and thank those who helped in the search. It shows that you’re interested in the institution and its people and are more likely to be a gracious colleague/supervisee. I usually go with e-mail because you never know how fast people plan to move (in my case, I found out VERY, VERY quickly). Not writing notes probably won’t keep you out of a job- but writing them (WELL) can never hurt your case.
  • Finally, BE PATIENT and DON’T SETTLE FOR LESS! I was soft searching for a while before I officially announced my search here in January, so it’s been a long time- there were definitely weeks that my friends and family can tell you I was in a funk because of the challenges of this search. I was selective about what I applied to- a specific area, functional areas, salary, and set of responsibilities- so it took some time to find what I wanted. I could have easily went for another lateral move or taken a position that didn’t necessarily fit my needs- but I guarantee you I would have likely been looking again soon. Know what you want, and go for it- it will be hard, you will have crappy days, but when you least expect it the chance you are looking for will come by and move faster than you ever expected. Stay focused, humble and ready for your next opportunity- it’s coming!

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I hope this was helpful! As I make my transition over to my new role and institution, I’ll be writing more on the move to the middle and will probably make a series dedicated to some of the issues related to becoming a mid-level administrator, so keep an eye out for that. I won’t promise an influx of posts this summer, but I can definitely commit to at least popping in here once to twice per week.

GotDegrees is back, with new energy and with new purpose- and I hope to have you all along for the ride!

J