Field Notes: 3 lessons for inspired leadership

"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org. 

by Amy E. Harth, Research Analyst, DeVry University

I recently participated in my second Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference in Kansas City. This year, I was excited to serve on the Planning Committee, an opportunity that exceeded all my hopes. I was fortunate to meet and work with a group of engaged, diverse and brilliant women. 

In my experience, this conference is different. And different is good. In fact, ‘different is good’ was one of the key lessons of this conference from both the planning committee and one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Monika Black of TandemSpring. Diversity is an opportunity not a burden. We learn from each other's different cultural strengths and this can be - and was - exciting. 

I also learned that one of the benefits of this group of diverse women is the encouragement of new ideas and respect for special needs. As a woman with chronic pain and disabilities, I shared that although I could benefit from certain accommodations, I was reluctant to bring them up - even when asked on the conference registration form. Even though I was on the planning committee, I didn't want to make a fuss. But because this group was so welcoming an insistent on accommodating everyone, I finally felt comfortable sharing this discomfort. 

I joined the planning committee because I particularly wanted to help engage people on networking activities, and I was glad of the opportunity to work on a networking handout as well as to lead a morning meditation. The greatest revelation I had from this was that my own discomfort with networking came much more from my own fears, and the mental place I was in last year, than from the activities at the conference. We must meet our students and our colleagues where they are. Figuring this out can be a challenge. Self-awareness and our own growth can be two of our greatest assets in relating to others. 

The importance of engagement

The day after this inspiring and uplifting leadership conference, I went to another speaker forum. While this was on the outside a very similar format (i.e., speakers and people sitting in an audience), the whole feeling of this second day was different. There were no organized opportunities to get to know other attendees. There were few efforts to energize the crowd. The leaders of this forum were, I’m sure, no less earnest in making this a great event and a great day. The good news was that the event ended with a gathering at a local restaurant. In this environment, we were able to get to know one another and connect on a personal level. Our reasons for attending and our passions became clear. We could share our cultural strengths. This was the opportunity many of us were explicitly seeking.

I have a feeling there may be another planning committee I’ll be joining. I had already learned that I can make almost any event what I need it to be for me. I hope to be able to do that for others. 

As a result of these experiences, I've learned a few key lessons:

  • Diversity is an opportunity – seek it and embrace it. 
  • Speak up - even when it’s out of your comfort zone.
  • Be the leader you need. 

As registrars, admissions officers, and other academic and operations colleagues, we bring a variety of skills and strengths to our work in fostering student success. To inspire our colleagues and the students we support to see themselves as leaders, we must first see ourselves as leaders.