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Rising Above the Internal Challenges of Leadership

For the past six months since the Career Leadership Collective launched, I have been reading pieces from amazing leaders. I have read or watched content about re-imagining career services, trust, cultures of innovation, the art of wow, disruption, and employability. I wrote my own piece as well on fighting for your vision and team. Yet as I read each piece, I can’t help but feel the weight of the people I am tasked to lead and also the people that I serve or work within the University setting; or think through my trials and tribulations when attempting to lead others. Because this is what it’s all about, right? People. The lives of people we work with, that work for us, that we strive to serve, and whose lives in which we aim to make a difference.

There are ups and downs, an emotional roller coaster of sorts. I have a sometimes tumultuous relationship with leadership, and I have learned that others do as well. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder “Wow. I am doing nothing?” Or “Am I even making any progress at all?” Seriously. You have to be impressed all these insights, but then also feel like “How do I even begin to implement a meaning-masking co-curricular collaboration effort, use big data insights for my campus, or sync team values and culture." And of course, I don’t have to implement everything and I know I should filter it as needed for where I am and where my team is at today. But who doesn’t strive to do the best for others when they are leading? I mean - that’s why you’re reading this post. That’s why you arrived at The Collective. At least, that is why I did.

If I am honest, some days I feel like innovation is too hard.

Average isn’t too bad some days (especially Mondays). And isn’t that okay? Taking on leadership can be lonely. It can be a challenge. It can be draining. I often battle the "impostor syndrome" and when I read these posts I think “maybe I can look for a non-leadership job.” I have those days and I am slightly terrified to admit it. Because it’s a responsibility that we have taken on; a responsibility to lead others. To serve others.

But then Tuesday morning comes. I begin to snap out of that funk. I think about what I am striving for, what is true...and my people. I start to think about how to organize this information. How I can begin to file and prioritize what I need right now. Maybe I’m alone in this but for me, organizing this information is probably the most important thing I can do.

And so I remember a few things:

  1. My community lifts me up: I remember that my relationships are part of my leadership. I think about the advice I get from colleagues, friends, family to help me navigate the information flying at me. I call my friends. I email or text a few people to check in on them and see how they are doing on a fine Tuesday morning. And I hear their trials and tribulations and offer up my support. There is something about helping friends or colleagues that sometimes clarifies what you need to do.

  2. Reflecting on progress can be grounding: I remember to take a step back. Maybe we have made some progress. I look back at where we were when we started. I take stock of progress and how we may measure that. I take a look at staff satisfaction. Is everyone where I want them? Maybe not, but more people are moving in the right direction.

  3. Self-honesty can be freeing: I remember to be honest with myself and ask questions. What really matters in a given week? What is the long game we are going for? Ask people around me - how do they think it’s going? What is right? What is working? What can be better? And I need to be honest with myself on the times I royally screw up. I need to “own my junk” as my friend Heather White told me recently.

  4. Wisdom from others can be transformative and inspiring: I remember to listen to nuggets I glean from the community at a time when they are most applicable. I read Rod Taylor’s Growth Mindset article and think about how to have that approach to get through this and maybe reach out to ask him how to do that daily. I read what Kevin Grubb talked about in the first 258 days article, and remembered what my first 258 were like and how I should connect with him to commiserate and talk tactics. I know Beth Kreitl was right about self-care and I have to find time to think though how I need to make time for that or else everything else may fall apart.

In the end, it’s simply about people and community. It's about reflecting on my work with some honesty, listening to the insights and advice of those in my circle and remembering that many of us are striving for extraordinary things.

PS: special thanks to my support network for bringing some coherence to these musings (Christina, Chris, Johnny, Farouko, Danny, LA Swinger, Beth (outsights), Megs).

Joe Testani currently serves as Assistant Dean and Executive Director of the Gwen M. Greene Career & Internship Center at the University of Rochester. His writing and work typically revolves around connecting data to storytelling and change management. He has been working in higher education since 1998 within a wide variety of institutions including Indiana University, Yale University, Franklin College, and proprietary schools in New York City. He was awarded the Fulbright International Education Administrators Program in Germany and also serves on multiple committees and boards for the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) and the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS). Joe has also been involved with consulting projects domestically and internationally in order to support the continual development of career services. LinkedIn

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