What are some essential tips or strategies we should follow when working with vice presidents, chancellors and presidents? In this article, I’ll address some of the ways which I have either had success working with upper administrators or have observed others achieving success with the upper administration.
The Importance of Relationship Building
I should begin, of course, with the proverbial disclaimer that I am not an expert in upper administration strategies. However, like most of us, I have seen and experienced various moments of success and failure in this realm. The adage, “business is all about relationships is true.” Certainly higher education is no exception to that philosophy. It is absolutely essential that CHO’s take the initiative to build those relationships with our ultimate boss(es). We must get to know their work styles, personalities, interests, values and visions for the institution. We need to make and take every opportunity to interact with senior administrators and learn how they view the university and its’ future.
The “Big Picture” Perspective
A few years ago, a colleague and I developed a program presentation entitled, “How to Manage Your Boss.” In researching this topic, we learned a great deal about what leaders look for in successful staff members. There were five essential qualities which leaders had in common when looking for staff:
1. positive attitude
2. willingness to learn
3. non-angry approach to life
4. problem solver
5. initiator/idea generator
In other words, leaders look for qualities that are not necessarily technical in nature as much as they look for qualities that demonstrate a big picture perspective. Additionally, persons with qualities that indicate a desire to develop ideas and strategies that benefit the entire organization are sought. Again, institutional leaders would likely want those same qualities in their staff members.
Make Life Easier For Those Above
For CHO’s in particular, it means we need to stay abreast of the latest innovations in programs, facilities and financing. We should strive to take care of concerns which arise at the lowest levels possible by anticipating issues, developing a preventative maintenance type philosophy about all aspects of our operations, and work to make life easier for those above. In other words, we should try to handle potential headaches for them whenever possible. Developing an “I’ll take care of it” mentality rather than the more typical, defensive posture of “this is why we do things this way” or the “you just could not possibly understand the problems this exception would cause” mentality (i.e. defending the turf or our rationales) would be more beneficial to not only us, as CHO’s, but to our supervisors, as well. Leaders want a “can do” attitude. Our response should be, “I’ll make it happen.”
Things Not To Do When Working with Upper Level Administration
Also in our research, we discovered that there were some specific issues which really tended to annoy leaders and bosses. The top few included:
1. poor administrative work habits
2. using the “at my former institution we did it this way” as your constant solution mentality
3. only thinking from a housing framework rather than a student affairs or university perspective
4. providing little or no explanation to students for policies and procedures
5. developing complicated bureaucratic process
Things To Do When Working with Upper Level Administration
Needless to say, CHO’s can off-set these annoyances by paying attention to the details, developing a balanced work ethic, using quality control practices to enhance efficiency and ensuring that we stay abreast and in touch with students and by using the best practices in student affairs/business affairs (not just housing). To go a step further, I think it’s essential that CHO’s work hard to take care of the myriad of complex and complicated departments for which we are responsible. Few divisions within an institution have the diversity of duties which exist in most housing programs (i.e. research, programming, staffing, facility management, construction, financial planning and revenue generation). A CHO, who develops solid management skills, will have the means to assist upper administrators with many difficult university challenges.
Taking another angle on what CHO’s can do to achieve success with senior administrators involves reviewing our everyday operations. In other words, ensure that you are up to speed on how the major processes and procedures work in your program. Know your budget and be resourceful. Develop ways to generate revenue which may be helpful to other parts of the university. An entrepreneurial spirit goes a long way in fostering partnerships within the institution.
Take care of your students. Make sure that programs, activities and support services have the students’ best interests in mind. Demonstrate to the senior administration that you are willing to take responsibility for the students and their behaviors in good times as well as bad. Hold students accountable, but do so with a velvet fist. A balanced approach to accountability involving education and punitive consequences is a must.
Finally, demonstrate loyalty to the institution. Support programs and activities outside of housing and outside of student affairs/business affairs. Attend campus events and actively participate in activities outside of your work. Give back to the institution beyond your career. Initiate partnerships with other administrative and academic units on campus. And in order to do this, you must go back to the original tenet of relationships: it is all about relationships. Take the initiative and extra effort to get to know your colleagues across campus. The more connected you are, the better you will be able to lend a hand and make things happen at your institution.
Leaders need other leaders. Senior administrators need CHO’s willing to take on tough tasks and to do so with a positive approach to life. Seek opportunities to assist and the relationships will develop. The most critical success factor in working with senior administrators is self-awareness. Constantly assess your skills, abilities, strengths and limitations. Self-knowledge goes a long way towards enhancing your personal performance. Strive to be a willing learner and stretch your potential.
It Takes Two: Managing Yourself When Working With Bosses and Other Authority Figures, Gene Boccialetti, 1995.
The Lessons of Experience, Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo and Ann Morrison, 1988.
Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson, 1998.
Submitted by Connie L. Carson, Director of Residence Life and Housing, Wake Forest University