Preparing To Lead In 2021

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Julie Decker (Florida State University) shares her reflections on how we might prepare to approach the next year as leaders, able to build resilience in our teams.


Preparing to Lead in 2021: Three Thoughts From My Corner of the World

By Julie Decker, M.Ed., Florida State University Alumni Association

Julie Decker participated in the 2019 Winter Institute as a new member of CAAE and serves on the Communications Committee.

“Great leaders don't see themselves as great; they see themselves as human.” – Simon Sinek

This quote sums up how the world is calling us to approach 2021. If it has not become clear by now, humanity is an essential component of leadership in this era (in any era really, but especially the one in which we find ourselves now). How are you prepared to approach the next year as leaders who can build resilience in your teams? 

Here are a few of my thoughts to share with you, CAAE colleagues:

1. Pursuit of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is just that ... a pursuit, an activity. I often tell my team that I can create a happy place for them to work, but I am not responsible for their happiness. Our team talks often about what motivates us, inspires us, who on our team makes us proud – and we verbally recognize those things weekly. Many of you have not seen your entire team in person for about nine months now, and how we create a positive, engaging environment is just as critical as what is being produced for your institution. For how our organizational citizens feel, so goes the organization; and as leaders, we cannot forget everyone defines happiness differently than they may have a year ago. So, invite your team to pursue, and communicate, what makes them happy. Let them tell you where they think they thrive. This might even open new opportunities for cross-training and expanding roles. 

“Great leaders don't see themselves as great; they see themselves as human.” – Simon Sinek

2. Sense of Urgency

When everything is urgent, your team becomes disengaged and burnt out, the opposite of resilient. At the FSU AA, we like to say, “We work with a sense of urgency, not under the tyranny of the urgent.” Further, when everything is a today-emergency, you foster a lack of discernment for when something really is urgent. Harvard Business Review just posted a great article about this noting, “Conveying a sense of urgency is useful, but an excess of urgency suffocates team development and reflection at the very point it is needed. ‘Code red’ should be left for real emergencies.” Acknowledge when you see a staff member acting with a sense of urgency to take on the new norm (webinars, virtual homecoming, another zoom networking event), and soon you will observe more organic, proactive problem solving occur among your staff. This, in turn, gives you greater freedom to envision a future likely not mapped out in your current strategic plan, because who among us really mapped this out? 

3. Be a Learn-It-All, not a Know-It-All

Now, I am dusting off some organizational research and an area of study I love (and I am very rusty) but give yourself some time to look up Peter Senge and learning organizations. How we create new knowledge in our organizations contributes to how we work to surface and solve today’s greatest challenges, think creatively, and build resilient teams. How effectively can your team take in new information, evaluate it, and act? The last year provided some great insight for you. How will you leverage what you learned about your staff, organization, board, institution, and volunteers? We all “pivoted” in these “unprecedented” times, and how we operationalize that entrepreneurial spirit will serve us well. Share what you are reading with your team. Invite them to share with staff any developmental activities they have participated in. Evaluate processes, so that you can be creative. Be willing to open the floor for ideas to surface, help remove barriers, and give space to emerging ways of doing business (ways that are likely different from how you or I came up in the Alumni Relations field).

Bonus – Actually, let them know what you are for.

“Talk Less. Smile More. Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for ...” If you’re like me, you sang this to Hamilton’s “Aaron Burr, Sir.” Actually, let them know what you are for. In this season of many faith-based celebrations, tap into that aspiration and apply to your organization. Believe in your team and organization, share openly your concern as well as your vision for the organization, them, and the future. In times when social injustices, systemic racism, pandemic surges, and budgets are being dealt with daily, be transparent and vulnerable. Let them know what you are for. Authority and positionality coupled with a lack of believing in something is a dangerous combination. You are a leader, right where you are for a reason.

I’m grateful to be meeting so many “great humans” through CAAE. May you consider new ways to lead in 2021. Happiest of Holidays to you!

Further sources:

Harvard Business Review article: Help Your Team Do More Without Burning Out 

Learning Organization: What is a Learning Organization?  and Creating a Learning Organization 

Aaron Burr, Sir: Sing-a-long!

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