Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pressing the flesh

I spent the morning working the Honors College table at Bear Fair, an event showcasing my institution's departments, colleges, and student programs for prospective students visiting the campus.  It's a role I've gotten used to over the past few years.  You answer questions, give information, make people feel welcome, convey excitement about your program.

Earlier this week, my boss had a talk with me about the near- and long-term future.  He's going to be very busy for the next year planning a national conference, and the year after that presiding over one.  So he's wanting to hand off some of the day-to-day operations to me, starting right away with leadership in the assessment and curricular efforts that we have going.  The good news in that message is that we both feel confident, based on recent history, that I have what it takes to do these jobs.  And the even better news is that he thinks I could do the kind of bigger jobs that are taking him away from the office recently -- fundraising and national leadership.

I think I can, too, and it's little things like the Bear Fair that show me how far I've come.  I'm not afraid to approach people; I believe in my message; and people respond to me.  I'm welcoming.  I can connect to people on many levels, not just the intellectual one.  I was knitting as I stood by our table, and in the first ten minutes three mothers of prospectives students stopped to ask me if I had knitted my sweater, providing an opening for further conversation about UCA and Honors.

'Twas not always thus.  Becoming a teacher brought me out of my shell.  It's not insincere, either; I enjoy the interactions and genuinely want to leave people with a smile on their face and a good feeling about the institution I represent.  I aim to always be straight with people, never to gloss over problems or tell them what they want to hear, and I can see that they appreciate that when they ask my opinion and get an honest answer.

If you had asked me ten years ago whether I wanted these kinds of events to be a regular part of my job -- be they with colleagues, recruits, committee members, alumni, or prospective donors -- I would have shuddered with dread.  Now I see their value in the connections generated, the positive feelings spread and multiplied, the reputation enhanced.  You work at home to have a program worth bragging about; then the bragging isn't so much work.  It takes time, and I personally find it exhausting, but all you have to do is be yourself and represent what you do.

Who, among those who knew me back when, would have thought that my skills could ever be described as administrative?  Yet I'm an excellent wordsmith; I have a structural/architectural "big picture" view of complex processes; I'm good at thinking through problems from needs to detailed solutions; I enjoy connecting with people and advocating for what I believe in; I have strong opinions that I'm learning how to leverage into leadership.  At this stage in my career, I'm starting to think that I truly have something to offer in a dean's or director's chair.

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