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!

Write-All-The-Things
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

The Professional Development Plan- A Window Into Your Future

Professional_Development_Kermit

Hey All! I’m actually back again- for two consecutive weeks in a row (don’t judge me- I know it’s been awhile)! And what on earth could I be back with at this busy time of the year for SAPros near and far? Why, the very key to your professional future- the professional development plan!

So why do I say with such confidence that having a PDP is the key to your professional future? For one, I’ll admit that I’m biased: I’m a planner- so much so that if there were an Overplanners Anonymous I’d not only be a member but I’d probably be planning the meetings (see what I did there?) so that’s definitely one reason I have one. It’s actually a problem. As someone who was raised to believe that a goal without a plan was just a dream, it just comes naturally. However, there’s a much more important reason that I created my own PDP and that I recommend doing one. Think about it- when you were in school- be it grade school or grad school- someone gave you the blueprint to get to the next level. A set of core classes, expertly designed syllabi, the full works – it’s incredibly helpful and if you do it right will give you the skills to get where you want to go, but in some ways it’s a handicap because the second you get out of grad school… it disappears. There’s no academic advisor or professor giving you an outline of what books to read, what conferences to go to, who to meet for coffee and discuss concepts with. Unless you have a supervisor who’s willing to pick up the slack (and with workloads increasing these days most can’t do this the way you’re used to), you’re on your own.

As a professional, the onus is on you to chart your own course- which at first can seem very daunting. However, if you take the time out of your busy schedule to do some reflection and thinking about what you want for the year and for the years to come, you can come up with a very useful tool that can be just as helpful to you as your academic educational plan. Developing your own PDP can be a great way to figure out what you want to do for the year and can be a great tool to present to a supervisor to help them figure out what they need to do to get you there. In my new role, I’ve asked my staff to develop their own PDPs using a template that I designed.

The Professional Development Plan- A Window Into Your Future

Every professional tends to have their own way of doing a PDP – I’m not going to claim that my way of organizing the information is the best but it definitely has worked for me in the past, so in an attempt to help folks who’ve never done this before out I’m sharing it below. Feel free to e-mail me, message me or comment below if you have questions.

 

GotDegrees’ Professional Development Plan “Master Recipe”:

  • Professional Philosophy: In order to figure out where you’re going, you need to think about where you’ve been and what effect those experiences have had on your personal approach to doing this work. The first step in determining your plan going forward is to think about what guides you as a student affairs professional- why do you do this work? What do you want to impart to students and to colleagues? What makes you get up in the morning and brave 100 degree temps in July and a foot of snow in January to get to the office?
  • What’s Your Endgame?: Once you know who you are in this field, it’s time to think broadly about where you want to be at the end of the time covered by your plan. For some of us, the endgame is another position- be it a move up or a lateral move across functional areas. For others, it’s building skills, knowledge or capacity in a current role – maybe getting more involved outside of your department, maybe becoming involved with a professional association, maybe even thinking about writing more. One way to think about this section that can be helpful is to take a look at job descriptions for the roles you’d like to have and pull out some of the responsibilities and requirements to use as a starting point for where you’d like to be. This section should be big picture- you’ll get more specific in the next section.
  • Specific Goals: The next step is to think about the details of your plan- what are the specific goals you want to achieve? Do you want to submit a program proposal for a conference? Get to know more about a different office on your campus? Prepare to take the GREs in anticipation of applying to a doctoral program? Whatever it is, I recommend keeping it simple and not having more than three or four specific goals. Developing SMART goals (more information on what this means here) is a good idea here because you want to be able to keep track of your progress throughout the period that you plan for. In addition to goals, you should think of a couple of objectives that spell out the steps you want to take to get to your goal- again, keep it simple and SMART whenever possible.
  • Other Information: After your personal philosophy, endgame and goals, you can go in a few different directions- the questions that I tend to ask myself and my team include:
    • What offices or departments do you want to work with or learn more about?
    • What auxiliary or collateral assignments do you want to work with in our office?
    • What conferences do you want to attend or present at?
    • What might you be looking for in terms or webinars or reading material?
    • Do you want to do more writing?
    • Might you be interested in taking a class at your institution or elsewhere?

The Professional Development Plan- A  Window Into Your Future

These are just a few of the questions you can ask yourself- depending upon what you’re interested in doing, you might have interests that get covered here or that may be completely outside of what I’ve thought about. At the end of the day, this document is about you and your wants and needs, so don’t be afraid to tweak and change it to make it work for you.

I usually try to create a plan at the beginning of each academic year (ideally prior to the start of student staff training but it can easily be after) that covers the full year- obviously it doesn’t have to be set in stone and can change, but it’s good to go into the year with a plan so you can make decisions. I’d keep the plan’s scope limited to a year at most- you can decide to do one each semester if you like if you like something more short-term. As someone who loves all things technology but isn’t exactly a digital native per se, I like having hard copies up in my office to keep me grounded but usually keep plans electronically so I can refer back to old ones and see how I’ve grown over the years. Finally, you should share your plan with your supervisor if you believe it will be helpful for them- but make sure you’ve added any tasks or needs for your position if you do so they know those are priorities for you.

I won’t be bold enough to promise that doing a PDP will automatically get you the job of your dreams- if I had that power I would have put Miss Cleo, Walter Mercado, and every other psychic out of business years ago. However, I can say from personal experience that having a plan will take the guesswork out of figuring out professional development, which in the end can lead to the job you want anyway. In any event, it’s a useful tool that I highly recommend and enjoy using in my own practice – if you have time over the next few weeks (stop laughing/crying- I know you don’t and I don’t either), start working on one and let me know how it goes.

Enjoy your last few weeks of summer/your first few weeks of the new semester!

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