When I think of supervisory transitions within student affairs, I feel like a chameleon sliding down a rainbow of challenges were I need to change colors quickly for any given situation. Like coaches we have to know which players need daily motivation, which players need harsh tones of encouragement, and which players need to be left alone to do their best work.
Supervisors flow from giving guidance to student organizations as an advisor to giving direction and support to resident advisors or professional staff. Supervisors have to decide what leadership styles are best for certain situations. A new professional at a new institution may need to have a different leadership style than an administrator managing transitions at his or her present institution.
As a new professional, you must gather large amounts of information in a rather short time, not only by reading materials related to your position, but also playing close attention to the campus culture as it relates to your position. Your first six months to a year is a great time to build relationships and ask questions to get clarification so you can better understand working relationships and expectations. Talk with individuals that have been at the institution for some time and listen very carefully to what they have to say. I have always had success inviting people to lunch to ask them about what they do and how it may relate to my area. You will find that most people have pride in what they do and would be happy to tell you about their positions. Other important information is covered in new employee orientation programs, but most of the information that you will need to peacefully co-exist will likely come from your own initiative. Talk with individuals that have been at the institution for some time and listen very carefully to what they have to say. You can also find additional information from the organizational chart, campus catalog, course schedules, etc. After studying the organizational chart and talking with key players you will learn who the key administrative assistants are and who the other people are that will provide access and information in the system. I’ve always spent my first six months or a year at a new position listening as much as I could so I could learn the campus politics and expectations in addition to the expectations of my supervisor.
Relationships with Students: Find the Right Balance
As a new professional you will likely spend most of your time with students on both informal and formal settings. You must establish positive relationships with students while clearly differentiating your professional role. This can be a very thin line but achieving a clear professional identity in your relationships with students will be important in your continued success in the position.
Other relationships that are important will be colleagues at your new institution, colleagues at other schools, and old supervisors and mentors. For your own emotional wellness you must have outlets that provide peace in your life and people who understand your position and what you may be going through. Colleagues can help you navigate through your new institution and be an excellent sounding board for your ideas and personal and professional development.
Adjusting Your Leadership Style
Earlier I spoke of using different leadership styles for different situations. Your style will certainly be shaped by institutional standards, supervisory expectations, your sphere of influence, and the needs of the students that you will be working with. What is the most comfortable leadership style for you? Some people are very task-oriented and single minded of focus and others are relations oriented and concerned about the feelings of others. Of course the ideal leader is one who can adjust his or her style to meet the situation (the chameleon), people in general prefer leaders who involve them in important decisions, especially students. Remember, students are very good judges of character and can quickly sense when you are not for real in your interactions with them.
Whether you are a new professional or moving up the ladder, I have always used the following suggestions that I read from an old NASPA journal:
1. Seek a mentoring relationship(s)
A positive mentoring relationship has great potential for sharing valuable information and perspective on the job. Remember that having a mentor is not one-sided; you have a lot to offer the mentor as well.
2. Develop new interests
Expanding your interests helps to maintain your true priorities and take your mind away from any drama at work.
3. Take care of you
We all know about wellness, but sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves when we are spending so much time taking care of others. Don’t be a workaholic, especially if you are in a live-in situation. Keep your support networks close and remember to listen to your body.
4. .Maintain friendships
Work at keeping your relationships alive even if you have moved away. In changing environments you will certainly need support and this may not occur without cultivating your relationships.
5. .Maintain a sense of humor
Happier people feel less stress and work more effectively; we all probably know this and try to have fun on our jobs. What has worked for me in stressful situations is to look at my day like it is a movie that I went to see. Some days it’s a tragic comedy, a drama, a soap opera, or a situation comedy. I have my popcorn and my Pepsi, reclined in a comfortable seat watching the whole thing unfold as entertainment. Basically this is another way of saying that you can’t control everything as much as we wish we could.
6 .Be true to yourself
“Self-worth as a professional and as a person is closely related to the honesty and enthusiasm we manifest in the practice of our profession” (Stamatakos, 1979, p. 330). You have to determine what is best for you and be honest with yourself about the experiences you are getting.
Submitted by Edwin B. Mayes, Assistant Dean of Students, Wittenberg University