Inspiring transformational, authentic leadership

April 15, 2019
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Competencies
  • Leadership and Management
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
photo of audience in a room with grey walls by Lisa Erck, Associate University Registrar & Law Registrar at the University of the Pacific 

In a Tuesday morning session at AACRAO’s 105th Annual Meeting, presenter Bianca Thompson-Owen encouraged and empowered the audience with insights on how to inspire colleagues and teams using a transformational authentic leadership approach. Thompson-Owen is a passionate and enthusiastic speaker that both educates and excites the audience to consider positive approaches and valuable techniques for exceptional leadership. 

Leadership is for Everyone
Thompson-Owen opened the session affirming that leadership characteristics may be found everywhere throughout our campuses, it only takes individuals with the drive to influence organizational change in their workplace. Everyone has the opportunity to make an impact regardless of position or department.

History of Leadership in Higher Education 
Thompson-Owen beautifully illustrated a historical view of leadership in colleges and universities. A journey from the 1700’s, frontier America’s colonial colleges, to 1800’s, Industrial Era’s Land-Grant Universities into the 1900’s. Thorough the 1900’s there were transitions to professionals needing technical colleges, to the 1940’s moving into the field of research, followed by the 1950’s era of mass education and ending with the 1990’s emerging approach to distance education and for-profit institutions. She emphasized the need to adapt our leadership style to meet the evolving face of higher education. Providing the application of dominate leadership theories to each era of higher education, we see the need to embrace the management theory approach in order to become transformational leaders.

The Emotionally Intelligent Leader
Thompson- Owen emphasized that words have meaning and the choices we make have far-reaching impact on whether we are engaging or excluding those around us. She presented that every leader should know the needs of their team. She suggested replacing the terminology of “staff” with the term “colleague.” Introduce your direct reports as a team member or colleague to empower those around you to participate and rise to their greatest potential. Thompson-Owen suggested that to move individuals from seeing their employment as a job to seeing it as a career causes them to think differently and thus perform at a higher level. We must remove obstacles such as the phrase, “we have always done it this way,” to help elevate the approach team members bring to the important work we do in education. When they think differently, they perform differently with improved engagement and quality of work. The power of influence comes from how guide them to tapping into their passion for their career.

Transformational Authentic Leader
Thompson-Owen highlighted the importance of hiring adaptable, skilled, and knowledgeable team members. Often the adaptable individual who is flexible and trainable is more desirable that the individual with more years of experience or specific training in a technology system. We must always be seeking more knowledge in our careers. The power of listening, committing, and effectively negotiating is profound. We must lead with transparency, shared governance, and effective communication skills. Transformational authentic leaders purposefully direct their teams as a visionary, focusing on the mission, and with a strategic approach.

Inspiring Others
Thompson-Owen reminded the audience that simple techniques such as leaving a post-it note with a thank you on a team members desk signals that the person belongs, is appreciated, is heard, which increases trust, engagement, and retention. Mentorship is powerful. A study by HR Daily shows that 85% of employees are more successful with mentorship. Yet only 30% of employers provide mentorship opportunities. She shared her mentorship form, which helps to guide mentorship conversations, and offered to share with the audience. Additionally, short-term wins and small gestures have a big impact on your team members. Providing rewards such as food, thank you emails, professional development opportunities, public recognition of achievements, and staff outings can bring exponential value in return. Do not underestimate the power of saying “thank you.”

Building Leaders for the Future 
Thompson-Owen highlighted a tool that she utilizes called a department resume. This collective document includes all the achievements of the entire department over a 1-2 year period. It allows the team to share who they are as a professional team when interacting with other departments. There are no individual contributors; achievements are listed with work attributed to the entire team. Items addressed in the department resume are the organizational chart, who they are as a department, what are their strengths, collective years of experience, presentations, and publications. This allows every member to feel part of the team and to feel recognition for his or her contribution to the collective achievement. She recommends having team members add this to their resume package when presenting themselves as an impressive extra element of success and team engagement.

Never Letting Up
Thompson-Owen charged us with seeing our challenges as opportunities. Often when we feel challenged we might let up, yet this is the time to focus on the issue. Likely, it is a challenge that is part of a cycle or process, which could lead to transformation if we “don’t let up”. She stressed the importance of developing a send of urgency through prioritization and implored us as leaders to set the standard in the field and daily interactions. She highlighted the need to create a culture as the entire team is looking to the leader to walk the talk. Staff meetings, one-on-one meetings, and staff retreats are critical to the success of the team. Do not underestimate the power and influence of interaction to inspire others. 

Thompson-Owen gave an energetic presentation filled with positivity that inspired the audience to take back tools and ideas to transform their workplaces through intentional authentic leadership. She is an outstanding speaker that is the embodiment of professionalism, bringing a relatable, encouraging, and truly inspiring message that empowers the leadership potential in everyone.