Saturday, May 28, 2011

Good Job, Bad Job, Lessons Learned

In the past two years, I have worked for two very different divisions within higher education institutions (and lived in two very different parts of the country). These experiences have been incredibly valuable for me, because they have allowed me to gain insight into organizational culture, leadership, and my own strengths, weaknesses, and values -- from two divisions quite unique along a number of spectrums: quality of leadership, guiding values and philosophies, approach to student development, formality of work environment, demographics of students and staff, organizational structure and management practices, and so on.

For the past couple weeks, I've been trying to decide how to share my experience working in these two different worlds via my blog. The reality is that I had an outstanding experience in one, and a less-than-stellar experience in the other. I learned valuable lessons from both experiences that I feel are important to share with my readers, but I also want to be careful not to vilify the division/institution where my experience was sub-par. None of the people there are bad people; in fact, I worked with many great professionals who I am happy to call my colleagues and friends. The culture was just not a good fit for me.

So rather than characterize each of these institutions based on the attributes outlined above, I thought it might be more appropriate, and more beneficial to my readers, to instead provide a summary of some of the real-life lessons I learned. These lessons are a mixture of good, bad, realistic, hopeful, and self-disclosing truths I have come to know.

  • Trust is absolutely essential in any relationship. The only way to get it is by giving it.
  • If you want to be a leader, focus on people and relationships. That's what separates managers from leaders. The world (and every organization) needs both, but understand the difference between the two and don't mistake one for the other.
  • Attitudes are infectious. If yours is good, others' will be too. If yours is bad, well, as they say, misery loves company. (I spent way too much time having a bad attitude this past year.)
  • Listening is an incredibly difficult, yet supremely important, skill to master. I have immediate respect and admiration for a good listener.
  • People learn in different ways, at different paces, and with different needs. Embrace it!
  • Know what you know, and what you don't. And don't act like you know what you don't.
  • Take time to thank the people who have made a positive impact in your life.
  • Humility is one of the most underrated leadership qualities. The best supervisor I've ever had was also the most humble.
  • Be humble, but don't be afraid to speak with confidence about things you're good at. You can be confident without being cocky.
  • Happiness comes from within, not from the outside world. You can't buy it, and you won't get it by comparing yourself to others. It's a choice you make.
  • One good mentor is worth a thousand advice-givers.
  • Sometimes the best way is not your way.
  • Sometimes the best way is your way, but you can't expect others to recognize it on their own. Advocate for what you believe in. (I need to be a better self-advocate.)
  • The world is changing (and becoming more connected, and moving at a faster pace). Organizations are becoming flatter. Traditional hierarchies are being replaced with networks. Social media are here to stay. Creativity is the capital needed for future success. Millennials will soon comprise the majority of the workforce. Learn to adapt to this new reality or be left behind in the dust as you wax nostalgic.
  • The best learning comes from reflecting. If you don't take the time to reflect often, you aren't growing. Learn how to sit quietly with only your thoughts. It's becoming harder to do (and somewhat less valued) with the new reality described above, but the ability to do so is a uniquely human capacity, so don't waste it.
  • Know your values, and act upon them. Make your decisions by them. Live your life according to them. It not only makes you a better human being, it also feels great.

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