In 2019-2020, I had an opportunity to participate in St. Lawrence College’s Leadership Development Program. Divided into three intensive modules over the course of the academic year, we covered Personal Leadership, Team Leadership, and Organizational Leadership. Our final task was in part to complete a succinct reflection–we were assigned this just as COVID broke and so I am late in completing this. To be honest, it isn’t that I didn’t think about it; rather that I learned so much that I thought about it constantly and the editor in me struggled with even the concept of taking all of that and making in “succinct”!
But allow me to try.
Module 1: Personal Leadership
I have learned that your strengths can be weaknesses; your weaknesses can be strengths. The Leadership 360 I completed showed that I have strong communication skills, passion for my work, am resilient; and that I like innovation. It was interesting to look at what the flip side could mean: strong communicators often need to remember to listen; passion can sometimes run away like a horse and needs to be reigned in; resilience sometimes means not recognizing vulnerability; innovation needs to be coupled with understanding and managing risk. We need to be attuned to both sides. It was also interesting from a personal perspective to see what others agreed with–and especially what they disagreed with: I feel I veer on the side of predictability and past practices – my peers disagreed; I rated myself low in terms of being tactical (focusing on short range, practical activities – peers thought I was right in the middle of the action. These are all insights rather than being definitive, but it makes for some deeper reflection that was on the whole a growth experience.
My takeaways then: That I need to link innovation to strategy more effectively; that I need to follow through and provide opportunities for feedback; that I need to continue to pursue leadership roles that suit my position, including team building. Most importantly, this module reinforced that I have a strong vision and need to make sure it is clear, compelling and communicated effectively within my department. As a new coordinator, this is helpful advice.
Module 2: Team Leadership
Module 2 was possibly the most valuable module as it dove into the challenges and rewards of effective mentoring and coaching. We spent a great deal of time on this, including a coaching intensive session where we practiced in small groups. The shift from focusing on a problem to focusing on development was a mind shift that resonated with me, and I have been cognizant ever since of the importance on using coaching as a tool for moving forward. Coaching is for growth and should be a continuous practice, rather than something that happens only when there is a problem. In addition to feeling more confident in coaching others, I also find the framework modelled helpful in my own reflective practice…acknowledging when I have a challenge and structuring it as a positive conversation with actionable plans that move me forward.
I use coaching techniques today with students everyday as it is transferable to assignments as well as everyday concerns, and provides students with tools without taking the responsibility for action away from them. There is not enough time to set up individual coaching conversations with each student (though it would be wonderful to be able to) but small group coaching is something I would like to try to implement at some point in the future.
Module 3: Organizational Leadership
We came full circle, coming back to strategy and vision, which happened to be two of the things that were targeted as my strengths throughout this process. I enjoyed the conversations around change management, and how we can all contribute to making the experience a positive one even when change is difficult. I like to think this module…in the winter of last year…gave many of us some insights into how to manage the sudden shift to online that we all experienced mid-March.
I can use these techniques as a communications faculty member, as a coordinator, and as a team player on the Cornwall campus. Change is inevitable and it is how we react to it and help move through it that defines us. The other element of this module that excited me was to use story to create a narrative vision that can inspire and motivate others. I have always understood the power of story and regularly use the elements of a good story with students and now try to deliberately do this with my program and classes.
The idea of a community of leadership is one that recognizes how everyone in an organization has something to contribute, and how together, anything is possible. My goals for my role at St. Lawrence College include using my personal strengths to continue to support innovation with a particular focus on teaching and learning and how we embrace authentic experiences and assessment in a rapidly changing world. I want to coach students to navigate this world, and also want to use coaching techniques to continue building my program team, working with peers to discuss challenges and work towards collaborative solutions, We are in a time of change, and I don’t believe things will ever return to the way they were pre-COVID. From an organizational perspective, I want to be part of figuring out what that might look like and how we can create a vision, a narrative for the future that is forward thinking, proactive, and compelling.
Credits: Thanks to Brian Benn and Ashleigh McKeil for encouraging me to join this program, and to our incredible facilitator, Janet Gilfillan – I am truly appreciative. Also to my LDP colleagues who went through the year with me and whose wisdom and insights was always welcome. Also to my first commanding office, Capt. (N) Bill O’Connell (retired), who took a chance on a young 17 year old and told me I had to become an officer, thus giving me my very first taste of leadership. I might have done it as a dare – but I have never regretted it.