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Last week, I wrote about A Leadership Guide for Women in Higher Education by Marjorie Hass. In today’s blog post, I want to share more great lessons from Hass.

Beginner’s Mind

Take advantage of what Hass calls the “beginner’s mind” in your first days in your new position. This is a lesson you need to learn before you walk into a new role. Spend your initial weeks getting to know the culture, the people and the history of your institution. Take advantage of the fact that you have a fresh perspective and the ability to notice what others may take for granted. Take time to document these observations. You will have so many aha moments that will prove valuable in the future—find a way to capture them. If you don’t have time to sit down and journal, use voice-to-text capture and talk your notes into your phone while walking across campus.

Serving as a Symbol

In many senior leadership roles, there is an understanding and an expectation that you will serve as a symbol of the university or college. While this may initially feel uncomfortable and you might even suffer from impostor syndrome, sometimes it helps to think about this as a type of power. With this reframe, you can think about ways to use this symbol as power to advocate for changes that align with your values and help others on your campus.

Administration Is Lonely

Hass also writes about the loneliness of administration. This is especially the case for women and even more so for BIPOC women. At the senior levels at the majority of our institutions, there are few women, especially BIPOC women. Sometimes you are the first or the only—the first woman in the role, the only woman in the room or at the conference table.

For presidents, it is even lonelier. You do not have peers on campus, and you will not. External networks of national organizations where you can meet and get to know other women presidents are a crucial component to not only your professional success but also your mental health. In addition, it is becoming more common for incoming presidents, vice presidents and deans to work with executive coaches during their transitions into the roles. In the case of the presidency, the board agrees to pay for the coach, and this provision is outlined in your contract.

Wine and Cheese Budgets

I loved this recommendation. Hass suggests making good use of your wine and cheese budget. We all know how important informal gatherings are in higher ed. This is where we have the best conversations! We discover what we have in common and make plans to do all the things together. Facilitating ongoing spaces for building and deepening relationships is an important element of leadership in higher ed, and this feels especially true now, two years into the pandemic.

Calm Anger

In her chapter on power and conflict, Hass devotes a number of pages to the use of anger, stressing the importance of finding ways to express anger that feel empowering rather than exhausting. This resonated for me. Anger usually exhausts me. However, when it is connected to an issue that I care deeply about and that is tied to my values, I do feel empowered rather than depleted. The strategic use of calm anger can be especially useful. This is a technique that I have had to learn to use with my teen son. “I am angry. Your actions have made me angry.” No shouting. No being mean. Just calmly expressing my anger. This is not something I ever learned when I was younger but something I have had to develop as a parent. The use of calm anger transfers well to community meetings and heated on-campus discussions.

Focus on the Maybes

This leadership lesson is in direct relation to the resistance leaders face from the “nevers,” as in those who will never support your idea/initiative/policy change. I would add the recommendation to rally the ambassadors or those who support a given initiative to help convince the “maybes,” who are more easily won over.

Next week, I’ll write about Hass’s recommendations for finding joy in your work.

Mary Churchill is the former chief of policy and planning for Mayor Kim Janey in the city of Boston and current associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. She is co-author of When Colleges Close: Leading in a Time of Crisis and an ICF certified leadership coach.

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