in Higher Ed

Fix what you can


“If you can’t control your peanut butter, you can’t expect to control your life.”
― Bill Watterson, The Authoritative Calvin And Hobbes

You ever have a squeak in your car that you ignored? When you’re younger, you figure if the car is still running, you might as well keep driving. You tell yourself you’ll get to it later, until you’re stranded somewhere on the side of the road with the hope that one of your friends will come pick you up.

For all of my insights and everything I like to think I know, I’m still learning this business of leadership as I go. My entire career has been built venture off the beaten path — sometimes literally — and creating paths where there weren’t any. What’s more difficult is fixing the fraying edges of circumstances where relationships are damaged and mistrust is high. People are cautiously optimistic, but anticipating more of the same. They’ve been promised lots before, only to get little. What would make you any different?

My first job in any organization is to listen to the people who’ve been there. The ones who have been doing their jobs diligently, no matter who is at the helm of the ship and if there’s no one at the helm, steering the ship in the interim. These people deserve their respect, because without them you don’t have an organization. You can’t give everyone what they want. Heck, you can’t even get everything you want regardless of where you are.

Leadership seems to be in part about picking your battles, understanding your audience and knowing your craft. I’ve been a cog in the wheel for a long time and I remain so. You can feel powerless when it appears that no one is advocating for what’s right. When you’re in a position to do something about it, it can be deceptively comfortable to want to offer more than you can deliver on. You just want to make people feel better; but it’s in those moments that it’s more important to balance the concerns of the few with the needs of the whole to find some common ground from which to move forward.