Develop effective, professional staff leadership

November 4, 2014
  • AACRAO Connect
  • Career Navigator

Presenter Mary Hodder explained at the AACRAO SEM 2014 Conference how she implemented an innovative leadership program for service specialists at Vancouver Community College (VCC).  

In a session titled “Don’t Call Me a Leader…and I Might Just Lead,” Hodder, now Registrar at Douglas College in British Columbia, Canada, explained that her goals when she created the program were to:  

  • Create leaders where leaders hadn’t been before, for people who didn’t see themselves in leadership roles;
  • Inspire action; and
  • Change culture.

In 2011, after working in student services positions in Canada and the United States, Hodder became registrar and director of enrollment at VCC, overseeing 50 staff members. Four months after taking the position, she also took over student services, overseeing 100 staff.

At the time, VCC, which enrolls 22,000 students from more than 40 countries, there had been had been a lot of change in leadership, Hodder said. She added that its two campuses were operating like very different silos. “There were a lot challenges at the college that had to be addressed,” she said. “I came in thinking about what would make a difference. I have to be the champion for the staff. It’s about developing staff to be leaders.”

She envisioned a leadership program and mapped it to include the following objectives:

  • Develop leaders;
  • Change culture;
  • Infuse SEM thinking;
  • Enable action through project;
  • Reward creativity; and
  • Inspire the campus.

The three main foci of the program were: leadership; professionalization of staff; and strategic enrollment.  The intention was to engage front-line staff who interacted with students face to face. 

The customized program content included workshops on leadership, innovation, teams, financial and performance management, and change and conflict.

Although the idea initially received “mediocre” attention and skepticism, Hodder said she went forward with the program. “I like to think that ‘possible’ is written in “impossible,” she said.

Hodder and her team chose a cohort of 30 applicants that included registrars and student services personnel as well as staff in advising, scheduling, financial aid, the library, institutional research, admissions, marketing, IT, aboriginal services, finance and cashiers, food services, and human resources. The cohort engaged in monthly meetings and group work for one year.

“It was a very eclectic group,” Hodder said. “There were many personalities, levels of experiences, and lot of ideas. They were impressed from the get-go that they had been given this opportunity and that the college was investing in them.”

The program was based in SEM, as the six groups working in the cohort were asked to develop a project focused on influencing the student experience on campus. “It became a driver of the leadership program,” Hodder said. “It’s where things really started to happen. They went above and beyond. They went to other campuses to interview people. They took videos on the street interviewing students. They went to all kinds of lengths.”

One of final projects was “Go Ahead. Get Employed,” an online and physical career center to centralize resources for students, supporting the college vision of offering various pathways and working with integrated learning to help transition students to workforce. Another included the “VCC Life Lounge,” a student life multipurpose space for commuter student (but open to all students and staff) designed to foster connection, collaboration, and to showcase talents and work. The lounge enhanced student life and promoted the college by attracting more students and supporting retention. “They were using our strategic plan and the priorities of our campus to better the experience of our students,” Hodder said.     

“My hope was that we would do all these projects, and the senior team would want to do them,” Hodder said. “And they did.” The message, Hodder said, was that “staff realized that they could build up from within.”

“I wanted people to love what they did, and to own what they did, and be really proud of it,” Hodder added.




AACRAO's bi-weekly professional development e-newsletter is open to members and non-members alike.