It’s a(nother) new academic year

By: Sue Workman
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It’s mid-August and many of us are deep in preparation for the start of the new academic year ahead, one that is quite different from the fall semester of 2020 as well as different from the fall semester of 2019.  The last 18 months have been filled with anxiety, change, and many challenges.  This has been an extremely hard time, for leaders, and for everyone we lead.  The pandemic ripped most of us out of our work environments, plunged us into contemplative isolation, and now we need to stumble our way, somewhat blindly, back to a new normal. Not one of us know what that will be for us, for our organizations, for our staffs, for our families, or for the world.  And yet move forward we must.  We can certainly say the last couple of years has promoted agility and the ability to change quickly.  Many of us will have students, faculty, and staff back on campus.  Some of us will be back on campus for the first time ourselves since early 2020.  Some of us will continue to work from a remote/home office, and some of us will be hybrid and working both from the office and from home.  The pandemic has increased the speed of new work locations greater than cultural evolution would have done, and very few of us will not have some change impacting us as the semester begins.  We’ve heard the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” many times and in this case perhaps we can add “and a pandemic will push culture and strategy out of the way”.

In a time when we have been used to commuting by simply walking from bed to desk, wearing sweat pants and no shoes, and having cats walk in front of our monitors and kids interrupting our meetings, perhaps it is time to re-group and remember the leadership lessons we have been taught and re-examine ourselves.

Do you remember the very first interaction you had with MOR?  For me, and likely most of you, it was a first impression exercise.  The evening before the first class, we met in a group setting and got to know each other informally.  The next morning, we did a de-brief on what others thought of our first impressions.  This exercise helped us understand the importance of the first impression, and how we “appeared” to each other.  Perhaps it is time to think about this exercise again.  Today, we have an opportunity to take off the sweats and think again about the impression we are leaving our colleagues.  What do you want your presence to be?  Is there something you want to change? Is there something you need to change? 

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that I’m writing this from my office in jeans and flip flops.  Shoes have been a hard thing for me to get used to again.  I realize that as I begin interacting with others in the office and (re)building relationships on campus, I need to re-think my appearance and the impression I leave with others.  I want to look like the VP/CIO from head to toe, not just waist up.  Think about yourself, what impression you want to leave your staff, your colleagues, and your boss.  I remember my first in-person meeting back in the office.  I really had to assess and adjust my thinking (and my appearance) on the impression I wanted to leave in the room.  This was in-person, not on a screen.  This was scary!

Perhaps this is also a time to re-think how you approach your whole job, even think about it as a new job.  What do you want to accomplish in the next 100 days? How do you want to move from pandemic-mode back to innovation-mode?  What do you want to change?

The most important leadership quality that I took from MOR and still use 14 years after graduation is intentionality.  Regardless of where you work, being intentional with your time and communication is a very important leadership quality. Time is precious. We have 1,440 minutes each day.    How do we spend those minutes?  Hopefully you spend 480 of them sleeping, and then we have about 480 for precious family time, home chores, and commute time if you are going back to campus, and about 480 for work.  How do you spend those 480 minutes for work? (Ok, I said an 8 hour work day. , but  I know some of you spend more time than this on work each day.) Do you intentionally plan your day, week, month? Or at least try to?  Do you have a goal for each day?  How much time do you spend with your team?  How do you best support them?  What do you intentionally not do?  How do you communicate?  What do you say, what do you not say?  Are you a transparent leader?  How do you clearly state your point?  How well do you listen?  Oh, listening – I snuck that in on you.  This is certainly a place to be intentional and perhaps slow down to make sure you understand the point someone is trying to portray to you. 

The new academic year is certain to be different.  I encourage you to take some of the 1440 minutes today to intentionally think about your leadership and how you approach this coming year.  I wish you all success.

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