Blog / Is it worth it? A pivotal point of reflection with the Office of the President: Pt 1

Recent Blog Posts

October 11, 2019
Posted by Christina Ngo
October 9, 2019
Posted by Christina Ngo
August 13, 2019
Posted by Pooja Addla Hari
July 9, 2019
Posted by Lukas Wenrick

Last month, Fellows enjoyed an extended opportunity to gain perspectives from more senior members of the Office of the President: Joyce Smitheran, Kyle Whitman and Annemarie Belter. It was a very special and rare chance to collectively pause and reflect broadly on the work we do as well as the President we support. For me, the conversation was rewarding in many ways, and I feel that, in order to best convey its significance to me, I should start with a detour of days long passed.

A first taste of leadership in higher education

During my second year of my undergraduate studies, I successfully ran for the student representative seat of my institution’s Board of Trustees. This experience introduced me to my first network of professional mentors, all of whom played an exceptionally formative role in developing my passion for higher education and leadership. On my first day with the Board of Trustees, they gave me a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins. Of course, almost everyone I have met in the “working world” today has been acquainted with this book, but I can recall a world before the widespread familiarity of Good to Great among my peers and colleagues. I remember vividly the precise moment when my President, Dr. Sam, placed the glossy, bright red book in my hands. I remember spending several hours with the wider administration in roundtable retreats and corporate training sessions to explore how we could best apply Jim Collin’s work to higher education. I remember wrinkling my brow and trying hard to suppress non-verbal indications that I was, at least initially, struggling with the challenge of translating lessons from corporate case studies to best practices for a public institution of learning. Up to this point in my life, I had a very shallow understanding of leadership within an organization, viewing it, at best, as a singular circumstance of influence and position. However, I came to greatly value the behind-the-scenes brainpower, relationship management and collaboration that go into steering a large organization towards a specific direction.

In the throes of strategic planning

One of my fondest experiences from this time was being part of the strategic planning committee. I believe that this experience, in particular, prepared me well for my current role at ASU. As an undergraduate, I worked with all the departments in our institution to work through an iterative process of redefining, redrafting and rearticulating our institution’s direction for the future. We took part in countless ideation sessions to reevaluate our institution’s mission, vision and values. We hired consultants and created strategies to involve our students and wider community in redesigning our institution’s logo and selecting the logo’s colors. I also recall several months of meetings where we assessed the many diverse visions of our institution’s proper role while, at the same time, trying to select the best performance metrics by which we wished to measure our progress years down the road. The intensity of this work brought me more interactive face-time with a wider spectrum of leaders at my institution than was afforded to the vast majority of Student Trustees before me. Learning how to mindfully manage relationships helped enrich my later experience of helping campaign for a tough bond referendum and, as Jim Collins would say, helping put the right people on the bus as we proceeded with a massive construction and multi-stage expansion plan to address the demands and needs of our community.

Links between my past and present

Looking back, it makes sense why I feel familiar working in an environment (ASU) that could arguably be summed up in slogans such as “Go! Go! Go!” and “Prototype – Test – Fix – Repeat!” Similar to my undergraduate experiences with administration, we move very quickly at ASU. We pride ourselves in being nimble and strive to accomplish significant goals in smaller time frames. I learned early on that accomplishing these feats and creating this type of a work environment requires effective leadership and interpersonal relationship savvy, and there has not been a day that has passed since serving as Student Trustee where I do not spend a few moments thinking about my leadership style or that of others. My deeply rooted interest in organizational behavior, relationship management and communication styles even provided the impetus for my graduate-level pursuits in political science and civic leadership, and I now view much of the world through this lens.

Remarkably, I find myself in an office whose attitude, urgency and creativity complement my leadership style and work ethic. This apparent fit, however, by no means grants me any opportunity to become complacent. In reality, every day, I see that my colleagues and I are unceasingly challenged in multitudinous ways and are tasked, almost routinely, to explore unchartered territory. ASU is like an extremely attractive and bright light to which organisms may feel naturally drawn, but what is it that makes some of us linger longer near this orb that also tends to burst intensely and irregularly with striking heat and brilliance? Is it worth operating in an ecosystem where the only speeds are fast and faster and where the intensity of projects almost never desist?

Read on in Part 2

Blog / Is It Worth It 1