August 29, 2014

four tips for new leaders

Every year, before the hoards of students arrive back on campus, the office I work for takes all of the student leaders on a retreat. I went as a student and loved it. It's a great time to enter the year intentionally, connect with other offices/leaders on campus, and enjoy the last little bit of summer before the year kicks off. One of my favorite parts of the several days we spend up in the beautiful mountains of Idaho are the seminars that are given by staff. I love learning and I especially love learning from my coworkers. They all have such a rich and valuable involvement in Student Development and I'm appreciative of any opportunity I have to hear from them.

This year, my boss asked me to give a seminar. If there's one thing you need to know about me, it's that I hate public speaking. That surprises a lot of people because I tend to be pretty outgoing but tell me I have to speak in front of people, especially a larger group, and I get all sorts of woozy. In high school, all the seniors had to a fifteen minute presentation in front of a group of teachers, administrative personnel, and members from the community where we talked about what we wanted to accomplish with our lives and where we wanted to end up after high school. Looking back, that was a really valuable experience because it gave me experience speaking and got me thinking seriously about what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, I remember thinking that I should run my car into the median on the way over to the presentation so I could have a valid excuse for why I couldn't give the presentation. You'd be horrified if you knew how seriously I thought of that.

Of course I agreed to give the presentation because I can't really tell my boss "no" and because I'm trying to continually push myself slightly outside of my comfort zone. Because I'm relatively new to my position, I decided to address the "new" leaders on campus and give them four pointers for making their first position successful. My coworker, Mark, who is in his tenth year, gave one on four tips for "old" leaders, or those who have held other leadership positions before.

I'm going to share that presentation with you now, in blog form, as a way to remind myself of how to be successful as I enter my second year, but also in hopes that maybe it can spark a thought or idea in ya'll.

1. Create a Vision

The first year of any leadership can be a little bit overwhelming. You come in fresh faced with all of your hopes and dreams, and sometimes you can be smacked right in the face with unanticipated responsibilities or de facto policy. Use this as an opportunity to create a vision for yourself in this position. What do you want to accomplish? Set goals- they don't all have to be big and lofty, they can be small and attainable. Just give yourself something to work towards. It can also be quite easy to focus on the big things, but don't underestimate the power of the small things. Sometimes the smallest things can be what matter most to a person.

2. Find a Mentor

Use your first year as an opportunity to connect with someone older and wiser who can help hold you accountable. Create an intentional time to get together with them where you can ask questions, seek guidance, and learn. As an MSW student, I have to meet with a professor once a week for "supervision." I am so grateful for this time because it provides me with a place to ask questions, talk about what's happening in the program and my internship, and just learn from someone who has done this all before. This mentor may also push you out of your comfort zone, but that is good because that is where growth occurs. Believe them, trust them, and learn from them. You'll be better for it.

3. Be Teachable

As someone who is "the boss" of a team, nothing drives me more bonkers than someone who is a know it all. You do not know it all and that is not a bad thing! Accept that you have much to learn about being a leader and about your position of leadership. Seek opportunities where you can learn and don't shy away from "teachable" moments. Those can be painful and tough, but there is gold in each of those moments if you allow yourself to learn from them. Make space for compliments and criticism- there is something to be gleaned from both.

4. Do Your Thang

Don't treat your position like you're just "filling in" for the person who held it before you. I struggled a lot with that last year. The woman who held my job previously had been in it for five years. People loved her. This job was her life. I really had a difficult time at first because I didn't let myself settle into the job and take it over. I wondered how she would have done things, did things the way she trained me to do, and even worked with a team that she had picked. She was great at this job, but it's my job now and I needed to make it my own. I'm feeling so much more freedom and confidence in my second year. I'm more confident in why I was hired and I have more ownership over the position. Because of this, I enjoy it so much more. 

There you have it folks. You better believe I used those pictures in my slides in front of 100 college students and all of my coworkers. I hope that these can be of use to you or someone you know. As you can tell, I survived the presentation and only had to wipe my sweaty palms on my pants one time. I'd say that's a great success. 

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