As a graduate student, I received training in writing program administration, which simply means that I was trained, as much as is possible when in graduate school, to serve as an administrator in charge of a several writing courses, such as freshmen writing courses. This administrative role typically includes everything from teacher training to course curriculum development.
But after graduation, I got a job not as a writing program administrator, and I really struggled with adjusting from my graduate program leadership role to department contributor. Part of my struggle was wanting to put my graduate school knowledge and experience to good use. And I thought that "good use" meant a more visible leadership position. (You can read more about my journey to that realization here.)
But in my excitement to contribute to a department (and frustration/annoyance that I wasn't contributing in the right ways), I got caught up in the end result and not the process: building relationships with the people who were vital to the end result.
In my head I was impatient to start the process of “making things better.” I sought out those opportunities to get involved in curriculum development or teacher training. But I was resistant to accepting that change is slow. I’m a get-things-done kind of person, that getting people involved and on-board is more than just making policy changes. It’s about building relationships.
Dr. Henry Cloud, a clinical psychologist and leadership expert, explains the importance of relationships in his new book The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have On You, From the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond. He writes about the power of people this way:
"The undeniable reality is that how well you do in life and in business depends not only on what you do and how you do it, your skills and competencies, but also on who is going it with you or to you” (9).
So what does this mean for me? It means that getting ideas implemented or getting conversations going depends on the people who are involved. I cannot require or force people to trust me, but I need their listening ears to share my ideas. I’ve realized this past year that building relationships with my colleagues is the most important goal, and my excitement to create change needs to simmer down. Way down.
Or put another way:
My expectations about my role needed to be adjusted. I am not the missing link that will miraculously usher forth change.
Instead, my role is to be the connector of people who starts hallway conversations; who listens to people about their experiences, challenges, and successes; who finds ways to build relationships.
When working with people—and needing their support to create sustainable change—the relationships are the most important element to that change. There may always be an end goal in sight, but sometimes (usually?) that goal will happen in baby steps, which is okay. Real change cannot happen without also changing people’s hearts and minds. But to do that, the one with vision must also take the time to support and listen to the other people in the scenario.
Ultimately, it's not all about me, my ideas, or where I feel most valued. Sure, those things are important to job satisfaction and overall happiness, but I'm now part of a team that has, combined, over 100+ years of academic administration and teaching experience. My colleagues have experiences, stories, and wisdom worth listening to and learning from. The wise thing to do would be to simmer down and listen more: more lunch dates, more coffee dates, more questions.
This year is the year of listening for me.
What about you?