Hey, welcome back! Today I’m going to talk about values-based leadership, and describe why it’s essential to The Leadership Academy.
Like so many of my stories, this one starts in grad school.
I started working in faculty development in the late 1990s – IKR, LAST FREAKING CENTURY. I was a grad student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is where I learned to help faculty across the curriculum teach writing using their own disciplinary conventions. Sexy, right? “Teaching faculty to teach writing. ” But it lit a spark for me: I loved seeing an instructor’s eyes light up with her own “a-ha” moment – you know the one, the same one we love for our students. Those are the moments that make us love teaching.
About 15 years later I was asked to develop a workshop to help faculty in their new roles as department chairs. At the time I was running a consortium of private liberal arts colleges – and my job was to help the five colleges find ways to collaborate on big, strategic projects. Leadership development certainly fit the bill.
Now, we both know there are a ton of leadership workshops out there for faculty moving into administrative roles. And honestly, many of them are really good. But also, there’s a lot of sameness. They talk about the difficulty of “supervising” folks from “the swivel chair” – you know, where you swivel between being someone’s peer and being their “boss.” They talk about budget processes and how to make the most of scarce resources. How to deal with difficult personalities, because as the chair, you can’t just ignore your colleagues when they do or say inappropriate things. They prepare you to deal with student complaints, and even the complaints of students’ parents. And so on.
I love these programs. There are a lot of things you have to learn as a new administrator, and I think it’s really important to prepare folks to succeed in those roles. So if you’re new to your role as a department chair or program director or a similar role as a faculty leader,, I’m gonna pause here to encourage you to ask your institution to fund your professional development. Advocate for yourself. Ask to be sent to a workshop where you can learn alongside folks in roles like yours. It will pay off. It really will.
OK, back to us. Since there are so many of these programs, I didn’t want to replicate them. I wanted to do something different. Having been the leader of an academic department myself, what I wanted to do for the new chairs I’d be working with was something I’d had to figure out on my own: I wanted to help them learn how to make managerial and supervisory decisions they could feel good about. And to prepare them for that, I developed a series of activities and discussions that focused on their values.
That workshop planted the seeds of what is now The Leadership Academy.
The Leadership Academy is a self-paced, three week online course teaching you how to draw on your values in order to infuse your leadership with clarity, purpose, and joy.
This course has three parts:
If you’re looking for an added level of interactivity, consider joining The Leadership Community, which gives you all the content of The Leadership Academy PLUS engagement with other participants in a private community space, as well as weekly office hours where we’ll gather in real time to ask each other questions and lend each other support.
The Leadership Academy and The Leadership Community launch in July. You can learn more, and even sign up for the waitlist – which will give you earlybird access and a discounted registration rate – at our website: www.theclareogroup.com.
Here’s a personal example of what it means to lead from your values.
I worked with a professional coach once who helped me define a single, guiding value for my decision-making. In the first module in The Leadership Academy I will take you through the same activity my coach and I did together. At the end of those activities, I chose a single word to guide my decision-making. That word is tranquility. Now, I don’t think anybody who knows me would call me tranquil. I’m about as human and messy and noisy as they come. When I get frustrated or offended I ruminate, I fulminate, I hold conversations with all the freeloading room-mates hanging out in my head. I’ve been known to call friends and ask them to talk me out of the emotional decisions I’m on the verge of making. Not tranquil, my friends. Not by a long shot.
But having tranquility as a guiding value doesn’t mean I try to be tranquil. It means that I value the feeling of peaceful calm that the word tranquility conjures for me. So when I’m faced with a decision and can’t see my way through the twisty path, I draw on that value and ask this question: what decision can I make that will increase my tranquility?
That question is kind of magic for me. As a mother, I often find myself wanting to make decisions that will be good for my kids. As a partner I try to make decisions that will increase my guy’s happiness. And sometimes those decisions have effects on me like…they make me busier…they add to my chore list…they cost me money…they interfere with my sleep…all of which I’m willing to do because I love my family.
But when I pause and ask “what will actually bring me tranquility?” well…then I point myself in a different direction. I find myself figuring out how I can be a good mom, or a good partner, AND bring tranquility to my day. I end up making very different decisions.
OK, back to my example.
After I had finished working with my amazing coach who helped me understand how important tranquility is to me, I was offered a job. A job I didn’t want. But the thing was, I also didn’t want the job I had. And here I was, with an offer. Great, right?
Not so fast. Yes, the new job paid more, but it was barely a lateral move. I wasn’t excited by the work, and the institution had some other drawbacks. And yet…I also wasn’t excited by the work I was doing where I was, and THAT institution also had its drawbacks.
At the end of the day, the new offer didn’t feel all shiny and new, and I decided to turn it down.
Before I did, though, I called my trusted coach. Even though our coaching engagement was over, she knew I was looking for work, and she was willing to have a one-off conversation with me about my situation
She didn’t ask the usual new-jobby kind of questions: is the pay better, do you like the hours, are you excited about it, do you like your potential new boss, will this open new doors for you?
Instead she asked me to close my eyes and conjure the feelings I associate with BEING TRANQUIL. Now, she asked me: does taking this job move you closer to that feeling than staying in the job you have now?
That was it. One simple question. But it kept me focused on the thing I’d identified as most valuable to me – the way of being in the world I want to constantly work toward. Suddenly the decision wasn’t about the job and its trappings, but about the kind of life I’m creating for myself, and for the people I love.
When I took the job I knew it wouldn’t be a forever job. And also? it definitely took me further on the path to tranquility than I was going to get if I stayed where I was.
IT’S NOT THE WORD THAT’S MAGIC. IT’S YOU.
The magic in this story isn’t tranquility. It’s the personalization. It’s what it meant for me to choose a word and live by it. I could have chosen any word. Wealth. Fitness. Friendships. Spirituality. Travel. Service. I literally could have chosen anything at all to value. And I’ll be honest, it took me work to choose tranquility. I didn’t choose it quickly, and I didn’t choose it lightly. But once I’d chosen it, I had to claim it. I had to use it.
And this is the kind of groundwork we’ll do together in The Leadership Academy.
In this course go through a series of exercises that help you identify your key values and beliefs – the things that motivate you and help you create the kind of life you truly want. You’ll use those exercises to develop a personal roadmap that will guide you when you face decisions in your leadership .
So you might be asking, why do I need a single value? I know what’s important to me, and I’m good at making decisions. Why should I choose this focus and then limit myself with it?
If you’re leading people in any capacity you have likely already experienced some level of tension between what you think you want to do based on your sense of right and wrong, and what you’re being asked to do on behalf of the institution. I’m not saying the institution wants you to do terrible things. I mean, it might be. I talk about some of these in Episode 1, where I describe shitty women bosses. But what you’re being asked to do doesn’t need to be blatant and awful in order to run up against your values. Your institution might, for example, have policies about attendance or scheduling that, say, present challenges for the person on your team who has aging parents who need to be driven to doctor’s appointments during the middle of the day. Or you might have compensation practices that you know are disadvantaging only some folks in your group. Or you might disagree with a standing practice that everyone is expected to participate in – like showing up to an all-employee meeting that is only a series of updates that could have been sent via email – when you all know this is a colossal waste of time.
But here you are, in a leadership position. Which means that most likely, someone at your institution wants you to meet these expectations and go along with…whatever. Even as you know that someone on your team – maybe even you – would benefit if something else were happening. So what do you do? How do you decide when to speak up, speak out, push back? To whom, and how loudly? How do you find the balance between representing the institution as expected from someone in your role, and representing the core of who you are?
The answer? Through values-based leadership.
I know that I personally experience deep and constant internal dissonance when I’m not straight with my team. This means I share with them how I’m really feeling about situations. When I’m speaking my truth to them, I am politic about sensitive issues, but, I rarely sugarcoat things and I draw this line: I won’t lie to them. Why?
Because if I have to disappoint someone, I am more tranquil when I disappoint someone who isn’t someone on my team.
Or, lemme say this another way: I am most tranquil when I am honest with the people who look to me for leadership.
This isn’t always easy and honestly, there have been times in my past when it’s been pretty ugly.. But it is always easier, and always less ugly, than a decision that takes me further from my values.
So that’s a little bit about why I believe in values-based leadership.
If you’re following me on Facebook or LinkedIn you’ll see this week that I’m just starting to introduce folks to The Clareo Group. Our site is live and the waiting list for The Leadership Academy is open, and I’m pretty stoked to start helping more women in higher ed rekindle the joy that made choose this path in the first place.
So that’s it for today! I’ll see you next time – same place, same attitude – for the next episode of The Uplift: the podcast that celebrates women leaders who lift each other up.
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