Sometimes Leadership is Right in Front of You

Rock Mountain

Rock Mountain

Leadership is a difficult topic to address, as there are wide variety of definitions and examples from which we can draw.  Multiple websites, blogs, and theories exist trying to describe what leadership is, how to become a leader, what skills are necessary to become a leader, and so on.  Today, however, I am choosing to write about something simple yet often neglected.  Too often in trying to develop students, and people in general, we focus on theories.  Now, I value theories very much and have my “favorites;” however, sometimes the answer is in front of us and we simply make it too difficult o see.  As student affairs professionals, we tend to over-think at times in an effort to provide relevancy.  So, what am I talking about?  Quite simply, I am talking about the simple power of observation and finding that we look up to someone or notice something special about him or her.

Today, I had the pleasure of sitting next to three different colleagues while interviewing at the Placement Exchange for positions at our institution.  Each of these opportunities provided me a chance to see a different, special side of my colleagues that I do not get to see on a day to day basis. Conferences, and particularly placement conferences, provide a unique opportunity to learn not only about candidates, but also your own staff.  I got to witness each of them discuss our institution, what the value and like, and what they see as challenges.  But, what does this have to do with leadership?  Everything.

Leadership is, at its base, understanding strengths and weaknesses, working to improve, carrying oneself in a way that inspires others, and  being honest with others and oneself.  Where did these ideas come from?  I will be honest, they are stream of consciousness thought.  I indicated in the beginning that I did not want this post weighed down by theories.  So how does this fit with observing my colleagues?  In one colleague, I observed her literally light up with excitement when candidates asked her about her institution.  She was genuinely excited to share what she values but was also honest about the challenges.  Being real and honest, and presenting each of those in a way inspires others in one example of a leader.  I was great to see this person grow since she first began in the department.

Another colleague has been a part of the institution’s family for several years.  Yet, she still speaks as enthusiastically about as she did when I first met her.  Her year’s of experience has provided her with a background from which to draw and a perspective unique to others.  Using these to provide honest responses to candidates’ questions was something great to observe.

Finally, interviewing with my third colleague brought a smile to my face throughout the process.  As the candidate answered questions, her attentiveness and demeanor was simply unrivaled.  A genuine smile permeated her face as she built a connection with the candidate and related her experiences and understanding of the institution.  Seeing the growth and depth this individual made me realize how special the moment I was in truly was.

Today, leadership was exemplified through professionalism, pride, and enthusiasm.  Yet, each expressed these in their own individual manner.  I was proud to see this side of my colleagues.  For one individual, this was time I got to spend that typically is not possible during our daily work.  For two of the others, whom I directly supervise, it was an opportunity to see them in action in an environment that does not exist on a day to day basis on campus.  I began this by stating that this leadership post was about “the simple power of observation and finding that we look up to someone or notice something special about him or her.”  Today, I can say that I did that.  I was given the opportunity to see growth in my colleagues, to see something special in them in a different setting, to be inspired by them, and to be proud of each of them for the gifts they have.

What have you observed in your colleagues that led you to realize that you were witness to something special, to someone’s growth?  What has a colleague down to make you proud of him or her and to call yourself a colleague?

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