January, 2014

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Good-bye Comfort Zone Re-Post

Apparently Visibility and Vulnerability are words for this year because on Wednesday this week I attended my first of many Performance Leadership (PL) classes. PL is a professional development class the university runs for mid-level managers — typically staff, which means it is a class full of just about everybody from dining services, business operations, engineering and agriculture extension programs and me. We meet every other Wednesday between now and June, and I am ridiculously excited about this class. At the end of day one I told our facilitator that I was sitting there thinking, “How do I get this job?” She said that as I presented she was thinking I would be good at it. I have no career change in mind just yet, but it is nice to see something else I think I would enjoy.

Half of it is just being in a class environment again, even if it is this kind of training class.  It would be impossible for you to over-estimate how hard it was for me doing my dissertation alone and not in a classroom environment. (Yes, part of the point of dissertation writing is learning to work on your own, but for me … it sucked. I like to talk through ideas.) I was so excited for this class that I made a 3-ring binder to keep my materials, got a new notebook and special pens. Then, I got to class and at every seat was a 3-ring binder. I felt more than a little silly and Lisa Simpson-esque. By the end of the day my table mates were giving me a hard time … “Of course you‘ve done the pre-reading” kind of stuff. In their defense, by that time I’d also volunteered to go first for an activity. Basically, I brought the teasing on myself – and it really was good-natured.

Seriously though, as much as I love the classroom environment (meeting new people, learning about them, sharing ideas), just being in this class is a step outside comfortable for me.  While I have often found myself in leadership roles, it has never been something I embraced (or cultivated) about myself. I was raised in an environment where I was constantly reminded not to “get above” myself. Since I also have an ingrained respect for leaders labeling myself as one by participating in this class triggers all the insecurities that go with “getting above myself.”

Unsurprisingly, taking this course feels a little like reaching above my station, but then pretty much everything I have ever done has felt like that. As long as I can remember my mother has called me “Champagne,” and talked about how I have champagne-taste on a beer budget. She’s even gone so far as to make the overt comparison that I am champagne and she is beer.  So, I guess I come by this disconnected, over-reaching feeling honestly.  It shouldn’t surprise me that — despite the fact that my parents have both been managers/leaders of a sort — head housekeeper, lead mechanic, bar manager, shop foreman, — sitting in a management class learning about leadership feels a little strange.

Now, having stepped out of that comfort zone and admitted that I am leading people — and that I want to develop that skill — every part of this class that will push me is just that much farther away from safety/comfort. In fact, one  of the first things we have to do is giving me hives just thinking about it. Sometime in the next week or two I have to send an email to my bosses, peers, and employees, and anyone else I can think of asking them to complete a review of me. Their review is completely confidential. The facilitators of the program gather the responses and compile them into a report that I will go over with my leadership coach. Sure, I understand how this information is necessary and will help me, but I am quite afraid to hear what other people think of me.

Vulnerable sounds like just about the right word for how I will be feeling all semester.



Staff Activity

First let me state, the WordPress app is not on my happy list today.  As I sat at Panera this morning drinking my coffee, I wrote a nice long post that disappeared into the ether as soon as I hit publish.  Really, it’s not even in my drafts anymore.  Thinking about it, though, you – Dear Reader – are perhaps okay with this disappearance. While not a horrible post, I’m not sure how exciting it was.  I didn’t even have any good dog pictures at the bottom to reward you for slogging through it all. Don’t get your hopes up, this post won’t be too exciting either, but I’m hoping it will at least be useful.

Choosing Visibility and Vulnerability as my words for this year wasn’t exactly a random choice.  I have known since the middle of last semester that this year I would be participating in a Performance Leadership class this semester.  The class meets every other Wednesday between now and June, and our first meeting was this week. This class is already pushing at me and my boundaries, and being really useful. Our first group project was part art/part confessional (in a good way).

Our first class activity was designed to get introduce us to each other. Generally, I am not one for these kind of ice-breaker/introductory activities, but I thought this one finally felt useful.

So great, in fact that I actually modified it for my beginning of the semester undergraduate writing center staff meeting.

The challenge for me (and the staff) this semester is making sure that the new people easily integrate into the center staff. Most of the time I do just hire 2-3 people at a time, but last semester was a little freakish.  There was almost a complete turn-over in the staff. I had to hire 10 people. It was great because they bonded during their training class, but has the potential to be not-so-great for the new people this semester.  To help ameliorate this process I decided to adapt this activity from the Performance Leadership class into our training. I did this new version again with them.

First they had to draw a badge like this:


One this badge they had to put: Three Values, Three Hobbies, and Three Strengths. The tricky part is that no words are allowed, only pictures. Once all the pictures have been drawn each person stands up in front of the group and tells the story of their badge.  Here’s mine (Remember the DH is the artist in this family.):


Yes, it is terrible.  I’m pretty sure my 2 1/2year old niece can draw better than I can. I don’t have it with me or I would show you my actual badge from the PL class. It’s even *better*.  In addition to not being able to draw, I apparently have no sense of space and proportion either. But, here’s my story. My values are hospitality (the person at the door waving people in), justice/fairness, diversity/family (all the people are the same, not a good representation of diversity, but there were limited markers.) My hobbies include walking/playing with the dogs — yes, those are supposed to be dogs. Watching TV, which is represented by the gladiator in the red suit. Also, I think you can see the crocheting yarn & hook.  My strengths, I think, are listening — you try to draw an ear. Being friendly … okay so normally I do smiles a little better, and the light bulb is to represent helping other people figure our their ideas.

The fun part of this activity is that a lot of people might list the same values/strengths, but they all represent them and talk about them differently. For each person we talked about how their values and strengths could work well for them in the writing center. I had fun and it felt like everyone else did as well. I suppose I will only figure out over the course of the semester how well it helped the new consultants fit in with the existing staff, but I think it was worth while after all.





Happy New Year

In an event worthy of a national holiday, today I left the house and met new people. Dr. Cheese is in the ‘boro for the holidays to see his family and came east today to see friends, so I tagged a long in order to spend some time with him. There was so much good food, and a ton of kids. Fun times! Since I already have two social engagements for this weekend: book club Friday night and coffee with the Anthropologist on Saturday, I think I can safely declare my hermit phase over. For someone who was known as a ‘social butterfly’ in high school, my lack of social life here in the Bull City has been trying at times.

While I am not really a resolution person, I have found over the past couple of years that it is helpful to have a slogan for the year. In the past I’ve focused on things like confidence, listening. Basically, I just pick a word to use a benchmark for my decisions and actions. Typically, this is something I do mostly at work, but this year I’ve chosen two interconnected words that I think will have an impact in every part of my life. This is the year of Visibility and Vulnerability. I don’t know exactly what it all means yet, but I know it will be a challenge to make myself open up this year.

Not much of a post tonight, but at least I started out the year with writing!