As part of my last welcome speech as president of the College Communicators Association of Virginia & D.C. last week at the Winter 2023 conference at JMU, I first thanked attendees for setting aside time out of busy schedules for their own professional development, and then encouraged them to truly focus on the sessions of the day, disconnecting from the constant stream of notifications on their devices and instead devoting their whole attention to what was planned for the day. I had said to “stop, reflect and learn” and, completely unplanned, our keynote speaker Matt Weber from UVA shared a similar message of “pause, reflect, do” during his stellar presentation later that morning. I’ll take it as serendipity that we both had the same idea, and am taking the message to heart by devoting some time to write out a few reflections and lessons learned from my time so far with CCA.
Delegate. No really, you don’t have to do everything and you’re not doing folks a favor by not asking for their help. The board and volunteers of your organization are amazing people who have raised their hand or agreed to serve because they want to help, not because they’re just being nice to you. By not sharing responsibilities and tasks with those on your team, you’re depriving them of the opportunity to learn and grow.
Document everything you’re doing. Make notes of questions you find yourself asking for each event, keep a running list of things to get folks’ thoughts on at the next meeting. Trying to keep it all in your head just results in your brain spinning and trying to remember to do something after you wake up in the middle of the night. Plus, having those notes provides a guide for you to be better prepared the next time that event comes around.
Don’t take feedback personally. Just because someone did not like the veggie wraps at lunch does not mean you’ve failed as a leader or they are personally attacking you for your choice of sandwiches. Look for the root of the criticism, see if it is a common thread in others’ feedback or an outlier, and adjust your approach accordingly.
Set aside time each week, blocked on your calendar, to devote to the organization. It serves as a reminder and gives you the space to focus on one thing amongst what is inevitably 10,000 other items on your to-do list. This same idea applies to scheduling meetings. For the first year and change of my presidency, board meetings were scheduled ad-hoc and trying to find a common time on calendars with folks who are very busy is nigh impossible. At last summer’s board retreat we picked a time to meet every other month via Zoom and now folks can plan around that meeting, rather than trying to squeeze it in.
Seeing these written out, I’m realizing what I learned are things that I’ve heard for years are part of being a good leader and teammate: delegate, listen to feedback, be precious with your time, stay organized. Becoming a board member for CCA and transitioning to a manager role happened within months of each other in 2017; and for the last six years I’ve focused on keeping all the plates spinning, absorbing new information, and taking on additional projects and responsibilities. With this newfound “free” time as an emeritus president, I’m committing here to getting back to being an active member of the higher ed community, maybe even less behind the scenes, sharing what I’ve learned, and facilitating opportunities for others to share as well. In my first seven years in higher ed I prioritized making the time to present at conferences, post thoughts to a blog and engage with the community on Twitter. I plan to get back to that starting in 2023 (although substitute Mastodon for Twitter).
An aside: I will fully admit, the imposter syndrome is real. An internship while getting my masters in computer science led to web development work; my interest in new technology led me to be social media curious when Twitter and Facebook came around, how does doing those things for 15 years make me qualified for folks to listen to me share some seemingly random observations? But after 15 years I’ve also learned, everyone in higher ed is in the same boat, we have similar goals and audiences, and we are all flying the plane as we’re building it, getting handed new parts we’ve got to incorporate when we weren’t planning for them. And that common experience means one new efficient practice, one small takeaway, one nuance you learned, will almost certainly help someone else. It may not seem revolutionary to you, but someone else may just not have had the bandwidth to ponder that same problem — even if they’d have come up with the same solution — but since you did, and you have, share it. If someone already knows it, great! It confirms that they’re not alone in doing that thing. If it’s new to them, even better! They can take that piece of knowledge and build on it, and maybe even share the next evolution of it back with the community.
So here I am, sharing my random tidbits of possibly common knowledge with the world, and I hope to continue doing it, on a more consistent basis, for years to come.
P.S. Kudos and thank you to the whole CCA Board, past and present (Stevalynn Adams, Marian Anderfuren, Amanda Broome, Virginia E. Carter, Maralee Csellar, Holli Gardner Drewry, Eric Gorton, Malcolm Holmes, Megan Donald Hughes, Christopher Katella, Teresa Mannix, Amy Ostroth, Rob Pongsajapan, Cynthia Price, J. Scott Parker, Melissa Farmer Richards, MPA, APR, Megan Shearin, M. Ed., Scott Spriggs, Steven Vehorn, and Sally Voth), for sharing their time, talents and wisdom over the years, I (and CCA) would not be able to do this without you!