For more than a decade of my career I’ve spent the fall and early winter months engaged in what I considered to be the most important work of an enrollment professional: reviewing applications and personally signing every offer of admission. How gratifying it was throughout those years to see the daunting stacks of applications and signed offers of admission disappear before my eyes. I was doing something, often all day and all night.
This year, as a result of some necessary strategic personnel shifts, I have passed the letter-signing and applications to my director of admissions — a move that created a significant void in my professional life unlike anything I’ve previously experienced.
I began to feel like I was no longer doing anything. At the end of the day, I didn’t have the same satisfaction of seeing my accomplishments: the neat stack, the completed report, the names and numbers all in a row. It seemed my work was no longer real — that its lack of physical evidence meant the work itself had disintegrated.
Coaches may experience a similar sense of atrophy when they become athletic directors, or faculty members when they leave teaching for administration. Allow me to offer some perspective and to make some recommendations for others making a similar transition:
1. Do not mourn and dwell upon the loss of control — Celebrate new responsibilities, opportunities, a logical redefinition of roles and freedom from being chained to a desk to read and sign, read and sign. At first it can be uncomfortable to let someone else “own” the effort. But in the past six months I’ve found it gratifying to watch my admissions director apply her creativity and personalization to the program I put in place. Her enhancements are improving the results.
2. Redefine “doing” — Create a working definition of what “doing” can and should mean in a new leadership role. Even if you spend a considerable amount of time participating in meetings, writing reports, generating new ideas and analyzing data … you may find greater success when you do not seek a sense of accomplishment by keeping track of the number of memos you write, meetings you attend, or new ideas for which you get credit.
3. Embrace delayed gratification — Take the long view of your accomplishments and recognize that important work is seldom finished. Since my work now sees beyond the horizon of May 1 each year, when admitted applicants tell us if they are accepting our offer, I have committed to establishing longer-term goals for these efforts and circling end dates in red on multi-year calendars only.
4. Serve as a real mentor — Get serious about mentorship, which takes more than occasional meetings, a cup of coffee and saying you’ll be there. Mentoring involves a special quality of doing — asking questions, listening and responding. Consider your own role models, and the ways in which they brought out the best in you. I have had some great mentors; I hope I can likewise occasionally offer the piece of advice or ask the question that can shape someone’s outlook toward valuable new outcomes.
5. Listen actively — Listen and hear, listen and think, listen and respond. Good listeners make good leaders. My staff now focuses on my listening skills in a specific section of my performance evaluation, so that I can test for a baseline and aim for improvement. (If, like me, you have suspected you should listen more effectively, now is the ideal time to nurture this skill.)
6. Applaud others’ successes — See your work reflected in others, recognize them and lift them up accordingly. Some leaders can make this a full-time job if they choose. I’ve decided it is time to measure my accomplishments by the achievements of those with whom I directly work. This is rocky new territory, but I’ve witnessed others make this transition quite successfully, so I know it is possible.
Finally, avoid the urge to micromanage as an effort to once again feel like you are doing something. I’ve had to fight this urge, and so far I've succeeded. Perhaps the urge is satisfied in the process of making and attaining a new set of terms toward a new sense of doing. Yet, as meaningful as this new paradigm has proven to be, and as satisfied as I may feel with the above-listed goals, I still feel inclined to assure you that my president and the board have assigned me a lengthy list of things to … well, do.
W. Kent Barnds is vice president of enrollment at Augustana College.